Our 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary details step-by-step strategy for minimizing wait times & avoiding crowds at the theme park’s most popular rides & shows, including Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and more. This Walt Disney World touring plan covers attractions, restaurants, zoo exhibits, and more. (Updated July 25, 2021.)
This single day Animal Kingdom itinerary has been overhauled several times during the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, most recently for the spike in crowds as of late Summer 2021. Since mid-July, wait times at Animal Kingdom have skyrocketed, causing us to change several recommendations–including when to do Pandora – World of Avatar.
There are a few reasons for so many strategy changes, including but not limited to attendance caps increasing, park hours shifting, FastPass+ being suspended, the end of Extra Magic Hours, stage shows and atmospheric entertainment being on hiatus, and ride capacity reverting to normal. All of this has caused changes in guest behavior, and certain attractions now have longer and shorter wait times than before.
We’ve visited Animal Kingdom many times since Walt Disney World’s phased reopening began, and have also monitored wait times, tested various approaches, and fine-tuned our strategy as crowds have progressively increased. This has been “interesting,” as what worked best last summer is no longer effective. Accordingly, this is the revised post-reopening Animal Kingdom itinerary we’ve devised.
This post continues our series of Walt Disney World Park Itineraries & Touring Plans designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” Animal Kingdom is an interesting mix of zoological offerings and traditional theme park attractions requiring a balanced approach that juggles the park’s various types of attractions.
It’s possible to experience what we call “animal fatigue” than you are to run out of time to do everything you want at Animal Kingdom. Pandora – World of Avatar helps with this balance, and most people will want spend more time in the rest of Animal Kingdom as a result. Thanks to that blockbuster land and other additions, Animal Kingdom is now a full-day park in normal times.
However, things are not totally normal right now. The vast majority of rides, animal trails, and dining options have reopened at Animal Kingdom–but Finding Nemo: the Musical and other atmospheric entertainment still has not. This is significant because Finding Nemo: The Musical is a lengthy, indoor offering that provides a needed change of pace. Musical groups and other entertainment acts help serve the same purpose of being nice diversions.
The good news is that Festival of the Lion King has now returned and continues to add more showtimes. This is a huge positive that goes a long way to address Animal Kingdom’s problems of imbalance. Doing this midday after lunch is an excellent way to split up the day and ensure you’ll be able to spend a full day in the park.
Nevertheless, most guests do not last a full day in Animal Kingdom at present. Wait times for Pandora – World of Avatar are still peaking in the first two hours of the day, but are remaining elevated later in the day.
Earlier this year, we recommended avoiding rope drop because arriving early causes you to “hit a wall” and leave before closing time when wait times are at their shortest. This is no longer our advice–rope dropping is once again your best option to avoid the worst wait times. At least, that’s the case right now as of late July 2021. The dynamics at Walt Disney World are literally changing by the week, and it’s likely the strategy will once again change come Fall 2021. We’ll keep monitoring and adjust this itinerary accordingly.
Now, on with the 1-day Animal Kingdom itinerary…
Avatar Arrival – Our early morning advice largely depends upon when you arrive and enter Animal Kingdom. If you are there around or before official park opening time, the first stop of your day needs to be Pandora – World of Avatar. Ideally, you’ll arrive at Animal Kingdom before rope drop, immediately rush to Pandora upon entry, and do Avatar Flight of Passage first.
Your next stop–or your first stop if you don’t get to Animal Kingdom at or before official park opening time–is Na’vi River Journey. Wait times for both Pandora – World of Avatar attractions peak within the first two hours the park is open, so if you aren’t entering Animal Kingdom until 45 minutes after park opening, save both Pandora rides until the end of the day. (We’ll include that on the itinerary, too.)
Peak XV Summit – If you’re not arriving within the first 45 minutes Animal Kingdom is open, you are not going to beat the Pandora crowds. Instead, zig when others zag. Head to Expedition Everest, which should be a near-walk on for the first hour of the day–you don’t even have to arrive at rope drop for this. (This is also the recommended second stop after Pandora, for those who did arrive early.)
Expedition Everest is one of Walt Disney World’s best-themed coasters, and it offers sweeping views of the park (and beyond). If you have the time, you might want to do it again towards the end of the day, when wait times will once again be nearly non-existent.
See the Awesomest Animals – Everyone knows dinosaurs are the best animals ever. Unfortunately, Dinoland/Dino-rama are unquestionably the most disappointing theme park lands anywhere, ever. The backstory might be good (debatable), but unless your preferred way to experience a theme park is “reading,” then the actual land will disappoint you.
However, DINOSAUR is actually a pretty good attraction. Do it, then act like the rest of this blighted area is extinct to you.
Kali River Soaking – Especially during the hotter months of the year, Kali River Rapids is a crowd-pleaser that is worth doing if you haven’t done it before. It’s a fun raft ride through cool environments (albeit lacking show scenes) with a conservationist message.
The potential for getting soaked is incredibly high, so don’t do it if that’s going to be a problem. Conversely, because you’ll get soaked on Kali River Rapids, it’s super popular in mid-afternoon, which is why we strongly recommend doing it earlier when the weather is hotter.
Coffee and/or Cupcakes – Creature Comforts Coffee Shop and Bakery is Animal Kingdom’s Starbucks location, and they also have some crazy animal cupcakes. They have a rotating lineup of Lion Cub, Zebra, White Chocolate Elephant or Cotton Top Tamarin cupcakes that are each like 3 feet tall (slight exaggeration).
Honestly, I think these cupcakes are more about the novelty of the giant cupcake than they are the taste. These are a large, filling breakfast/snack that will make for a fun Instagram photo that will make you the envy of all your friends stuck back home. SUCKERS! 😉
Otter Odyssey – While you’re in the neighborhood of Starbucks, check out Otter Grotto. It’s just around the corner and features some of Animal Kingdom’s most fun and rambunctious critters.
Strategically, there is no good or bad time for any of the various animal trails and exhibits, but you’ll want to space them throughout your day at Animal Kingdom to avoid fatigue of the park’s zoological features.
Lunch – Animal Kingdom really brings it when it comes to dining. For lunch, we recommend slowing down and having a table service meal. Animal Kingdom gets pretty hot midday, and this is a great time to escape that heat with a longer, relaxing meal. Currently, our #1 pick for those wanting an exceptional, fine dining caliber (in a realized setting) meal is Tiffins. The best meal at Animal Kingdom, and one of the best overall at Walt Disney World.
If you don’t want something fancy, opt for the excellent Yak & Yeti instead. You can’t go wrong with either of these for table service dining in Animal Kingdom. If you want a character meal, Tusker House has also returned as a family-style meal, although our experience there was not the best.
UP! A Great Bird Adventure – This bird show is targeted towards families with small children, and the characters from Up (Russel and Dug) take center stage. It’s not great, but still worth seeing. Showtimes for UP! A Great Bird Adventure are sporadic, so you might need to fill time before/after this (and other) shows that are included in this plan.
In any of these cases, take time to explore trails or watch various animals in the park. From fully-fledged attractions like Pangani Forest Exploration Trail to smaller exhibits around the Oasis, Animal Kingdom has a lot to see that’s often overlooked. Slow down and take the time to explore, discovering various animals and details tucked away in quiet corners. Stumbling upon these hidden gems is very rewarding!
Maharajah Jungle Trek – This is another animal trail that you could really do whenever. Regardless of when you choose to do it, we strongly recommend that you don’t skip this one.
Maharajah Jungle Trek is another under-appreciated Animal Kingdom attraction, as this walk-through exhibit has some beautifully imagineered environments. Definitely don’t skip it, but you also don’t necessarily need to do it in this spot.
A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King – One of two excellent Animal Kingdom stage shows has returned! Technically, the show is A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King, which is a result of modifications to the full show. This essentially means physical distancing, most notably the removal of the Tumble Monkeys and aerial performers.
We’re hopeful the full show makes its triumphant return, but we’ll happily take this for now. Festival of the Lion King is an exceptional show, and Animal Kingdom really needed a relaxing, indoor way to break up the day. Since returning, physical distancing has been dropped and several showtimes have been added, making it easier to see without significant waits. For lower crowds and shorter waits, we recommend one of the late afternoon shows.
Winged Encounters – Periodically, there’s a show directly in front of Tree of Life called “Animal Kingdom: Winged Encounters – The Kingdom Takes Flight.” This does not have specific times in My Disney Experience, so you might want to ask a Cast Member around the Tree of Life when it’s scheduled to occur.
This is not a major show, but it’s a magical one that is absolutely worth seeing. Try weaving it into your itinerary as you head back towards the front of the park. Also make an effort to see the other birds and critters around the Oasis, which are otherwise easily overlooked.
Insect Interlude – It’s Tough to Be a Bug is a good option to round out the middle of the afternoon here. It’s a fun 3D show housed inside the park’s iconic Tree of Life, which is arguably the coolest thing about the experience.
With that said, you can truly do It’s Tough to Be a Bug whenever. No strategy required for this one, so slot it in whenever is convenient for you.
Two-Week Sunset Safari – We’ve already gone to different corners of the globe, scaled the Earth’s highest mountain (a couple of times), and now, we’re going to do a few weeks worth of safaris. That’s more impressive than going around the world at Epcot in a day!
For this ride aboard Kilimanjaro Safaris, we recommend waiting until late afternoon, getting closer to sunset time. Along with the early morning, the animals are most active in mid to late afternoon, so this experience should be different from the first but equally eventful.
Unwind at “Dinner” Time – Animal Kingdom is not open late enough for most guests to do both lunch and dinner, but this is our advice if you don’t mind living the high life and eating twice in the span of ~4 hours. In addition to that issue, one of the biggest “problems” you’ll have with visiting Animal Kingdom is that there are too many good places to eat. I guess that’s a good problem to have. First, there’s Satu’li Canteen in Pandora – World of Avatar. This counter service restaurant has inventive, high-quality, and even healthy cuisine that is excellent.
If you’re looking for something unhealthy and distinctly carnivorous, Flame Tree BBQ is our top pick. One of the greatest things that Animal Kingdom After Dark brings to the table is nighttime views of Everest from the seating area. Of course, the food is amazing at Flame Tree BBQ, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Delicious smoked meats and a wonderful view makes this an almost transcendent Walt Disney World experience. (Well, for hardcore, mountain-loving carnivores like me… 😉 )
Travel 4.4 Light Years Away… – The final stop of your day needs to be Pandora – World of Avatar. Right now, we recommend arriving to the land around 75 minutes before park closing. At that point, Na’vi River Journey should have a posted wait time of 55 minutes or less, with an actual wait time usually around 30 minutes. (Adjust your arrival accordingly based on the wait time in My Disney Experience.)
That should be a sufficient buffer to finish the boat ride and make your way to the park’s headliner, Avatar Flight of Passage, with 15-30 minutes left in the day. At this point, the posted wait for Flight of Passage will likely be over an hour (it might even be triple digits!), but the actual wait time will be significantly lower than that. These will be the shortest waits of the day at both Pandora attractions–about half of what you’d wait if you arrived at Animal Kingdom for rope drop and did them right away.
Unfortunately, growing crowds and higher wait times mean that Animal Kingdom is no longer the relatively relaxed and less stressful touring experience that it was earlier this year. However, if you can outlast the 4 pm mass exodus and you follow this strategy to avoid headaches, you can have a satisfying day at Animal Kingdom.
Even a few years after Pandora – World of Avatar opened, wait times for both Avatar attractions can still be quite long, especially at rope drop, so pack your patience! If you want to experience other attractions besides those we’ve listed, make sure to check out our Animal Kingdom Park & Attractions Guide, which rates and reviews all attractions.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What would you include in your ideal day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? If you’ve been back to DAK since Walt Disney World’s reopening, what was your experience with crowd patterns and wait times? Did you do Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage first, last, or somewhere in between? What did you think of Pandora – World of Avatar? If you haven’t visited Walt Disney World, what do you plan on doing during your day in Animal Kingdom? Any questions? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments!