Hey there! Disney-fanatic Anne here.
When I went to Disney World with my family for the first time, I was (obviously) awe-struck with every aspect of every park. Nothing beats that first-time magic, right?
And even though every park is INCREDIBLE, my favorite has to be Animal Kingdom. I've always been a huge animal lover, and that combined with AK having three of my five favorite WDW rides makes Animal Kingdom my top pick of all the parks. So here is my ultimate guide to Animal Kingdom for First-Time Visitors! To make things easy, this guide is focused on one day in the park, although if you can, I highly recommend two days. This schedule is also assuming you do not have or use Extra Magic Hours.
One Day in Animal Kingdom
Before you go:
Aside from proper planning, nothing will be more important for your Disney park experience than FastPass+, especially if you only have one day in a park. With Animal Kingdom's new(ish) Pandora - World of Avatar attractions, FastPass+ can* be the only way you're able to do everything you want.
*Of course this depends on the rides and attractions you actually want to do and see. But even if you want to see everything and aren't able to get the FastPasses I recommend, don't worry! I'll go over this later.
Quick Overview on Disney's FastPass+ System: For one park per day of your visit, you can choose up to 3 FastPass+ selections for most rides and attractions in the park. Once you have used all three FastPass+ selections you can continue to choose one FastPass+ selection at a time based on availability, which you can see on kiosks around the park or the Disney World app. You can make your FastPass+ selections 60 days in advance if you are staying on-property and 30 days in advance if you are staying off-property. FastPass+ is completely free, and it is HIGHLY recommended take advantage of it no matter how long you are in a park.
My FastPass+ recommendations for Animal Kingdom in order. (You can only pre-select three, but I've put five because you they are based on availability):
1. Avatar Flight of Passage
2. Na'vi River Journey* (Full disclosure, my family had mixed feelings about this ride. It's slow-moving, and although I thought it was absolutely beautiful and loved it, some members of my family weren't crazy about it. The posted wait time while we were there was over 3 hours, though we were lucky enough to have a FastPass+ so we only waited about 20 minutes. I definitely recommend this ride for first-timers, but I don't know if I would wait in line for more than 45 minutes for this ride without a FastPass+. Also, you can only get a FastPass+ for ONE Pandora ride. Get Avatar Flight of Passage if you can, but if not this ride is a good bet.
So long story short, if it's your first time in AK and you CAN'T get a FastPass+ for Flight of Passage, get a FastPass+ for Na'vi River Journey. If you've been before, you have the option of FOP, or you're on the fence about the ride, skip it and use your FastPass+ for other rides.)
3. Expedition Everest
5. Kilimanjaro Safaris
Make a Schedule
Okay, I know my business is creating custom trip itineraries (including daily theme park schedules), but I swear this isn't a shameless plug. I spent about 100 hours (not joking at all) planning my last Disney World trip, and having a schedule for each day we were in the parks was the KEY to such a successful trip. My family went over Christmas break, which is the absolute busiest time of the year at Disney World and Universal Studios, and even though some parks were hit their capacity limits and had record crowds, we never waited in line for more than 40 minutes for a ride, minus just a couple of exceptions- one being intentional and a couple being the perfect time for a break but my family wanting to get every penny's worth out of our trip and choosing to wait in a long line instead of sitting down for a while.
Whether you use Taylored Trips or not, make sure you have at least a basic plan of what you want to see and do for the day. Hit the most popular rides first thing in the morning or save them for right before closing, and make sure you put in adequate time to walk between attractions, eat, and take breaks.
Ultimately a detailed schedule created by a professional is going to get you the most out of your park experience and save you hours every day waiting in line, but if you choose not to go that route, please make your own with what you have! The parks are huge, and waiting to plan your trip until the day you get there won't cut it.
Make Restaurant Reservations
There are plenty of food options around Animal Kingdom that don't require a reservation. Harambe Market (African) is my favorite quick-service spot, although it can take a long time to get your food when it's busy and there isn't very much seating nearby. The Yak & Yeti Counter Service (Asian) is also a good option, with more seating options around.
Table service restaurants are more expensive, but tend to have better food. Plus, it can be really nice to have an air-conditioned place to sit for an hour at some point in your day, so I'm a big advocate of doing table service when you can. The best table service restaurant in Animal Kingdom (and one of the best in all of WDW) is Tiffins. If you want something a little less fancy, go for the Yak & Yeti Restaurant. If you want a buffet and/or a character dining experience, Tusker House is your best option. All three are excellent restaurants. Rainforest Cafe isn't quite as well known for its food, but the ambiance is super fun and great for families!
Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance. Tiffins can book up quickly, but Yak & Yeti and Tusker House don't usually fill up too fast. Earlier is always better though, so if you know where you want to eat, it's best to book early. You can cancel your dining reservations for free up to 24 hours before your slot.
If you aren't able to book the reservation you want, the same philosophy applies here as FastPass+. Keep checking! I was able to get a reservation at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom because I set up alerts to be notified when something became available.
Yay! You have your tickets with your FastPass+ loaded, you have your restaurant reservations, you have your schedule, and you're ready to role! Here's a basic order of attractions you should hit:
1. Avatar Flight of Passage* (Sorry, one more side note since I said I would talk about this. When I went to WDW over Christmas break, I was not able to get a FastPass+ for FOP, and the projected wait times at opening were 3 hours. After a ton of research I devised a plan for us to get to the gates an hour and a half before opening time to be in the first hundred or so people in the park. We did it, and it was absolute madness and chaos, but we were of FOP 10 minutes after the park opened. As we left the ride (about 20 minutes after park opening), the wait time was up to 3 and a half hours. Moral of the story- HAVE A PLAN. Also, get to the park early! Even if you managed to score a FastPass+ this is a ride you'll want to experience more than once.)
2. Kilimanjaro Safaris
3. Expedition Everest
4. DINOSAUR (FastPass+)
5. Primeval Whirl
7. Na'vi River Journey (FastPass+)
8. It's Tough to be a Bug!
9. Expedition Everest (FastPass+) (It's worth doing twice!...Or three or four times. Once you've used your last FastPass+, open the Disney app and see if you can get another. Along with the list above, good options are Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo The Musical, Kali River Rapids, and Rivers of Light.)
10. Festival of the Lion King
11. Maharajah Jungle Trek
12. Kali River Rapids
14. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
15. Valley of Mo'ara
16. Tree of Life Awakenings (at sunset, so the time will vary)
17. Rivers of Light
18. Whatever you want to repeat that has the shortest line! Kilimanjaro Safaris is always a great bet because you have a different experience every time you ride it.
There ya go! Animal Kingdom in a nutshell. (Writing this makes me want to go back so bad!)
If you want help creating a schedule that will maximize your time in the parks and keep you in line as little as possible, CLICK HERE!