When it comes to the “Disney thing” I have defaulted to letting my parents take my kids. It was a grandparent treat when I was 5 and both of my boys have had the pleasure of visiting the Happiest Place On Earth with their grands. But when it came to planning a winter getaway to Florida, how could I overlook the Magic Kingdom?
Zacharie saved up money for his own plane ticket, he wanted to see crocodiles and panthers, and I found a good seat sale fare into Orlando. How could I land in Orlando and not do Disney?
I found a compromise: Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s Disney without being DISNEY! DISNEY refers to the intensity of the experience at the other parks. There are crowds, there are hardcore fanboys, there are lines, there’s just OMG ALL THE THINGS!
Things are different at Disney’s Animal Kingdom; the characters are there, the park is filled with creativity, but it’s not DISNEY! It’s got a slower pace, it’s got more to see and experience making it the best (and worst) of all the Disney parks.
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Disney Animal Kingdom Is The Best Disney Park
There are not a lot of things to line up for a Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You’ll easily find your 3 things to reserve on your FastPass+, but if you’ve got younger kids (mine were 8 and 6 when we visited), you won’t find a lot that you need to line up for.
The Kilimanjaro Safari is a must. This is where you get up close with the zebras, giraffe, cheetahs, lions, and more like you’re on safari. It always has the longest line, and should be your first FastPass+ pick.
My kids had no desire to ride Expedition Everest or Dinosaur! so the only other things we lined up for was a shot at seeing Mickey and Minnie and the Finding Nemo show, but again you could use your FastPass+ for both of those.
The rest of the park is wander and do what you’d like as you’d like. There’s street entertainment, places to relax, and random encounters with characters. We took a train out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch,
wandered the wonderfully detailed Maharaj Jungle Trek to see the tigers
We hiked the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail to see the gorillas and birds
And saw everything there was to see at the park at our own pace without ever waiting in a line.
And then there’s the Wilderness Explorer activities that kids can do. Right at the entrance to the park is a kiosk where kids can pick up guide books with 31 challenges to seek out and perform around the park. They’ll visit different places and learn about drums, insects, mountains, trekking, birds, and more.
Our boys were content to run around the park and perform ALL THE TASKS in the Wilderness Explorer guidebook. (Usually kids accomplish the feat in two visits, but our boys were absolutely dialed in on becoming Wilderness Explorers on our one day visit).
What did this mean? Well, a lot of walking, but also a lot of DOING. Our sons were constantly talking to staff and performing tasks and learning. At the end of the day, they handed in their completed books and became Wilderness Explorers without ever waiting in line. We were at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for more than 8 hours and spent less than 20 minutes of it in a line.
The variety of things to see and explore at our own pace without the crowds of the other parks made Disney’s Animal Kingdom the best Disney park to me.
Disney Animal Kingdom Is NOT The Best Disney Park
For all the reasons that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the best Disney park, it could also follow for some that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is NOT the best Disney park.
There are not a lot of things worth lining up for. You’ve got 2 big rides, a safari, and some shows. Outside that there’s nothing to line up for and that meant disappointment for our 6 yr old.
Charlie had just been to Disneyland with his grandparents in October. So the rides were fresh in his mind and .. he was a little disappointed that there wasn’t much in his wheelhouse. When it came near the end of our day and we gave the kids a chance to do “one more thing” before heading home, Charlie asked to do some rides.
A few spins on a triceratops themed ride, some mole whacking and water squirting and we were done. That was it.
Yes, there’s a HUGE playground and climbing and digging space in Dinoland USA where kids can explore but really, you took your kids to Disney so they could go to a playground? The lack of rides and ‘things to do’ was a downer for Charlie.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom also has an early closing time (the animals need to get hustled in to their pens before dark) meaning the visiting hours are shorter. This is a downer for some although my wife and I were wiped after 8 hours and were just fine heading home after dinner.
This will be changing in April 2016, as the park opens some new activities and areas and exhibits in the evenings. (Our visit seemed like a work in progress, there were construction crews revamping everything).
The Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom is going to come alive at night with a new projection show, while Rivers of Light is a new water & light show inspired by lanterns & the Aurora Borealis. The Kilimanjaro Safari Ride at Animal Kingdom will go into evening with an extended sunset trip to view nocturnal animals. And still to come, the new Avatar exhibits.
The character quotient is a little lighter at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Yes, Mickey and Minnie are there in wonderful safari outfits, but the others we spotted around were Baloo and Louie (from The Jungle Book), Dug and Russell (from Up!), and Chip and Dale. Pochantas was there and Tarzan is roaming about, but that was really it. So it’s not the DISNEY! experience many die hards seek.
But that’s not what we were looking for. We wanted to see animals, have a day at Disney, and walk around in February wearing shorts. We wanted Disney, not DISNEY! and this place was exactly that kind of experience. For us, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was perfect.
Disclosure: Our family received 2 complimentary tickets to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.