Honest Disney’s Animal Kingdom Review – Disney World’s “Not A” Zoo Theme Park

Entrance of Animal Kingdom behind greenery and flowers in the foreground

I’ve been interested in theme parks since I was 8 years old, and since then have studied the industry heavily. Every time I go to a theme park, it’s an exciting adventure.

Thrill Rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

A lot of people think Disney can’t be kid-friendly and still have thrill rides. But that’s not the case with Animal Kingdom. While it may not have had too many thrill rides when it first opened in 1998, this park has added some of the best thrill rides on Walt Disney World property and across Disney parks in general.

Expedition Everest is my favorite ride at any Disney park. If you want a traditional roller coaster experience with some extra twists, this is where you’ll find them. Find yourself taking the plunge down an 80-foot drop out of a mountain – tied with being the biggest structure in Walt Disney World with the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror. Race forward and backward in the dark before coming to face with a giant yeti that may or may not love disco. It’s a truly unforgettable experience and one of the most thrilling in all of Walt Disney World.

The newest thrill ride to grace the park can be found in Pandora: World of Avatar. Flight of Passage takes the ride system of Soarin’ in EPCOT and cranks it up a level, putting you on seats you straddle to mimic riding a Banshee over Pandora. This is not your typical motion simulator ride, as you really feel this thing moving along with the screen. You can even feel the Banshee “breathing” as you experience the ride!

Though it’s seen better days, Dinosaur provides a thrilling experience in the dark. Similar to the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, this ride takes you back to prehistoric times in a vehicle that bounces and jolts as you encounter dinosaurs both friendly and unfriendly. Some of these dinos are also quite large, and the darkness of the ride means this can be scarier for smaller children.

As with any thrill ride, these are usually some of the most ridden attractions at the park. Flight of Passage in particular tends to get very long lines, so try and hit that up first on early entry if you can. Expedition Everest is a people-eater, so its lines tend to stay between 20-45 minutes, though it can still get long lines on the busiest days. Dinosaur is an older ride and usually doesn’t have waits that are too bad.

Be sure to check the height restrictions before promising your child they can ride. However, the height limits for these Disney rides are usually less than at other parks like Universal or SeaWorld.

Family Rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Score: 8/10

Disney’s Animal Kingdom may be one of the best parks out there for family rides. Obviously the star attraction here is Kilimanjaro Safaris, where you board a vehicle that takes you through an actual safari with real animals. While your experience depends on what the animals are feeling like that day, it’s very cool to be able to get up close and personal with animals in a way not many people are able to experience.

If you’re looking to explore a world of fantasy, Na’vi River Journey in Pandora: World of Avatar is a classic Disney boat ride with some colorful, immersive scenes and one of the best animatronics anywhere. However, be advised that the capacity for this attraction is pretty low, resulting in very long wait times, and the ride itself is pretty short.

Throughout the park, you’ve got other family-friendly rides like Kali River Rapids and Triceratops Spin. You also have a 4D movie experience in it’s tough to be a bug, located in the Tree of Life centerpiece of Animal Kingdom. Stay away if your kids are scared of bugs, though.

Food and Restaurants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Score: 9/10

There are some great food options to be had at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Satu’li Canteen may be the best quick-service restaurant on property – seriously, those cheeseburger pods are no joke. If you’re looking for a great sit-down experience, there’s Yak & Yeti near Expedition Everest, which serves great Asian dishes – some of which are harder to find at a theme park. There’s also the highly recommend Nomad’s Lounge that’s a great place to grab a drink and watch the boats float down the river – pricey, but tasty. Doing some work from this spot is a dream.

There’s some fun snacks to be had like baked mac n cheese with pulled pork and the famous seasoned fries from Mr. Kamal’s. Of course, you can find classic theme park options like pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream. But if you reallly want to experience all the great food at Animal Kingdom, try some of the other spots I’ve mentioned.

Entertainment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Score: 9/10

One of the must-dos for me when I visit Animal Kingdom is the Festival of the Lion King. This show features music from, you guessed it, The Lion King. It also features acrobatics, fire-wielders, large puppets, and lots of dancing and audience participation. If you’re going to see one show at Animal Kingdom, make it this one.

Between Expedition Everest and Dinoland USA is Finding Nemo: The Musical. While I have not seen this personally, kids are sure to love seeing large versions of the classic Finding Nemo characters come to life and sing and dance on stage.

Elsewhere, there are various meet and greets throughout the park. One of my favorites is Kevin from Up!, who will roam the park and sometimes stop for photo ops. Other characters in the past have included Moana and Pocahontas. There’s also boats that ride by the river that also include characters you can wave to as they float by.

Animal Kingdom sometimes has special experiences for different holidays or seasons. The polar bear actors are fun to meet and there’s sometimes a seasonal light show held on the Tree of Life when the park is open after dark, which doesn’t happen very often.

Experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Score: 8/10

The biggest experience you can get at Animal Kingdom is are the animals. There are so many different species for you to see, not just on Kilimanjaro Safaris, but they have walking trails as well. You can see things like gorillas, birds, and tigers on those walking trails. The animals are everywhere in this park, and there are so many opportunities for you to see wildlife up close and personal.

There are also up-charge experiences where you can do things like pay to feed animals, take exclusive tours of exhibits, and sometimes in the evenings they have night rides to see animals. I haven’t done any of those myself, but there are definitely reviews of those on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet to check out.

There is also a small train you can take to get to the back of the park. There in Rafiki’s Planet Watch, you can learn how to draw some Disney characters for free. You get to keep the drawing you made for free, so it’s a pretty cool souvenir for you to take home.

Theming and Atmosphere of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Score: 9/10

The theming here is so immersive. The Expedition Everest queue, for example, is one of the best and most detailed queues out there. It actually has real artifacts from a Tibetan Village. Flight of Passage is also great – you get to see things from the Avatar movies including an avatar floating in a water tank. The animal exhibits and walking trails are well themed to different areas of the world, and the food options match the areas they’re in as well.

Operations at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Score: 8/10

As with most Disney parks, the operations of this park are pretty good. You’re going to have rides get long lines, but you can tell the cast members are really trying to move through people as much as possible. It’s not the cast member’s fault that the lines can get long. Definitely, the biggest offender at this park is Flight of Passage. I feel like that line just gets so incredibly long due to its low capacity. But you also have rides like Expedition Everest where the line is constantly moving.

Of course you get cast members that are usually really friendly. They’re happy to help. They’re happy to point you in the right direction and give you like fun information about the park. The Disney cast members are awesome. Always treat them with respect.

If you’re somebody who doesn’t like being on their phone, unfortunately, Disney has become very smartphone dependent. You can use their app to do things like mobile order for food, store your tickets, your passes, and sometimes even your hotel room key. You’ll also use it for Genie+, so if you’re trying to do anything to expedite moving through lines, you’ll do it through the app.

Also, if you stay on Disney property, there is transportation to and from Disney hotels but only via bus. The Skyliner and monorail do not come to this resort, so keep that in mind – you’ll want to make sure you budget time to take the bus to and from your hotel. Again this is something that’s only offered on Disney property. Some off-property hotels also offer a shuttle, but they don’t run as often, so you’ll have to check with that specific hotel to see what the options are.

Trams in the parking lot have also made their return since the pandemic, so you don’t have to walk as far on foot to get to your car after a long day at the park.

Affordability of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Score: 6/10

There’s no denying that this is a Disney park and so it’s going to be expensive. However, this is one of the Disney World parks that I feel like you really get what you pay for. You get great theming. You get great rides. You get a great experience overall, so while it is more expensive, it is definitely worth it in the case of this park.

I also feel that Disney has pretty reasonable quick service food prices. I don’t find myself paying more for basic theme park food like chicken tenders or burgers. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper than other theme parks like Six Flags.

But again this is Disney, and Disney is expensive. You could look online for different vacation options both on Disney and on other websites. You can try to get ticket packages or packages for that include a hotel online, so just take a look around and see what you can find. It’s going to bring the cost down.

You can also work with a travel agent. Sometimes they have some special deals that you may not know about. You usually don’t pay a travel agent to give you a quote and help you out (they get a commission on the total cost of the trip you take), so they may be able to give you some deals as well.

Conclusion and Scoring Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Final Score: 64/80 (80%) – World-Class

Overall, this is my favorite Disney park anywhere. I love the fact that it’s so easy to relax there. I think the rides are great. I think the theming is excellent. I think the food is some of the best on Disney World property. This park has a lot going for it.

I think that if you’re traveling with small kids, I think they’ll really like this park. I think they’ll like seeing the animals, the shows, and the rides. Also anyone looking to have a relaxing day at a Disney park should try to add this one to their trip.

However, if you’re somebody who’s looking for a lot of roller coasters or thrill rides, you may want to visit another park in Orlando. Additionally, if you don’t really care about getting a zoo-type experience or you’re not super big on animals, this park may not be your favorite – to get a full day out of this park, you definitely need to plan some animal-related activities.

What do you think of Animal Kingdom? Is it your favorite Disney park?

Christian McIlwain

Christian has been a fan of theme parks since he was a child. He has over twenty years of experience both researching and working in the industry. He grew up visiting Kennywood Park throughout his childhood. Currently, he lives in Atlanta, GA where he frequently visits Six Flags Over Georgia and Orlando area theme parks.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *