How to get the most out of Animal Kingdom with toddlers and little kids

Last updated on May 24, 2024

This is part of my Disney series, a collection of guides to how to get the most out of all the Disney parks with kids (especially toddlers and pre-schoolers). My obsessive research and planning will save you a lot of time!

Animal Kingdom is perhaps the Disney theme park that is most well suited to toddlers and little kids. Part zoo and part theme park, it’s less of a sensory assault than some of the other parks. And all the natural theming and lush gardens make for a more peaceful visit. You could feasibly visit without going on any of the rides and still have a beautiful day, watching shows, seeing all the animals and collecting Wilderness Explorer badges. We all loved it more than we expected to.

We were especially wowed by Pandora – World of Avatar, one of the most impressive lands in all of Disney and home to one of its best rides, Flight of Passage.

Here’s my guide to visiting Animal Kingdom with toddlers and little kids, including the best rides, shows, food and places to play – plus practical advice on how to make the most of your day. I went deep into all the research and Disney blogs, so this will save you a lot of time!

Guide to Disney World with toddlers and little kids

I’ve also written a detailed guide to getting the most out of all of Disney World with toddlers and little kids, which covers things like the best time to go, how to choose which parks to visit, how to avoid the queues (including a guide to using Genie+), and how best to navigate the humungous Disney property. I suggest reading that as well to cover all the basics.

What is Animal Kingdom?

Asia Animal Kingdom.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the newest of the four Disney World theme parks, opened in 1998. It’s part theme park, part zoo, with rides, shows and wildlife experiences to explore. You can even do a safari.

Set over 500 acres, it has a stunning setting with lush greenery and themed lanes, replicating environments from around the planet and the world of Disney. From the jungles of Asia to the savannahs of Africa and the otherworldly landscapes of Pandora, we were wowed by all the theming.

There are only 10 rides at Animal Kingdom, but it’s as much about the shows and animals as it is the rides, and it’s easy to spend a full day there. Plus, some of the rides are epic – both for kids and toddlers. It’s home to one of our favourite Disney rides of all, Avatar: Flight of Passage.

Is Animal Kingdom good for toddlers and little kids?

Victoria walking around Animal Kingdom.

We think all the Disney World parks can be good for toddlers and little kids, and it’s hard to choose which one is best. It depends a lot on your priorities and interests.

Magic Kingdom has the most attractions for little ones, but Animal Kingdom is less of a sensory overload – and might make for a more peaceful day. You can alternate rides with shows and walks around the animal enclosures. And the safari is a special experience for all ages.

I’d argue that it might be the best Disney World theme park for little kids, and certainly the least stressful.

How to navigate Animal Kingdom with toddlers and little kids

Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom.

How to get to Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is less well-connected than the other Disney theme parks. The only way to get there is by road – either by car or bus. There are complimentary buses for Disney Resort guests between the hotels and the theme park. And you can also get complimentary buses between Animal Kingdom and the other theme parks. It takes around 20 minutes to get from Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom.

There’s a dedicated car park if you’re driving there, and taxis can drop you close to the entrance.

How to get around Animal Kingdom

Once inside Animal Kingdom, it’s fairly easy to navigate. There’s a central island – Discovery Island – and all the other lands are gathered around that with paths leading to each one. The only exception is Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which you get to by train.

A note on strollers

As with the other theme parks, we recommend either hiring or bringing your own stroller. Theme parks are tiring and having a stroller helps conserve the little ones’ energy for other things. If you or any of your party struggle with walking long distances, there are also mobility scooters for hire.

The Animal Kingdom lands

There are seven lands in Animal Kingdom:

  • Oasis: This is where you enter the park. The lush jungle landscapes set the tone for Animal Kingdom’s emphasis on nature.
  • Discovery Island: At the centre of the park, this is where you’ll find the iconic Tree of Life, a massive tree with intricate animal carvings.
  • Pandora – The World of Avatar: Inspired by James Cameron’s film Avatar and the world of Pandora, this was our favourite land of all. With bioluminescent plants, giant mountains, and two amazing rides, it’s one of Disney’s best.
  • Africa: This land simulates an African village and includes the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride, a realistic safari experience with real animals. We were so impressed with this!
  • Asia: Featuring the Anandapur village, the Asia land has some of the more thrill-seeking rides, like Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids. Plus the excellent Maharaja Jungle Trek.
  • DinoLand U.S.A.: This is the most traditionally Disney of the Animal Kingdom lands, and to be honest, we were a little underwhelmed by the set building. That said, it has a brilliant playground that the kids loved.
  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch: This area is set apart from the rest of the park, accessible via a train. Go there to learn about Animal Kingdom’s conservation work and visit the petting zoo.

How to plan your time at Animal Kingdom with toddlers and little kids

We have general tips on how to plan a Disney World trip with kids in our main Disney post. This includes advice on prioritising rides, being flexible, thinking about naps/break times, and choosing your first ride wisely.

When making a plan for Animal Kingdom, make sure to consider the layout of the park. Try to group attractions and shows together by location – otherwise you’ll waste time zig-zagging back and forth.

I also recommend thinking about the pace of your day, alternating rides with shows and walks around the animals.

How to reduce your wait times at Animal Kingdom

Line for Kilimanjaro Safaris.

See our main Disney World post for general tips on how to reduce wait times at Disney – including using Genie+, individual lightening lanes, single rider lanes, and doing rope drop – but here are some specific tips for Animal Kingdom.

You can potentially ride everything at Animal Kingdom without buying Genie+ (although that would likely mean a few long waits).

Which is the best first ride to choose at Animal Kingdom?

The most popular ride by far at Animal Kingdom is Avatar: Flight of Passage with an average wait time of about 90 minutes.  It isn’t part of Genie+, but you can buy an individual lightening lane for it.

If you don’t want to buy a lightening lane, this is definitely the ride you should head for at rope drop. This applies even if you don’t have early entry because the line is likely to just get longer as the day goes on.

None of the other rides come close to the popularity of Flight of Passage, but we did see waits of up to around 45 minutes for Na’vi Journey, Kali River Rapids and meeting Mickey and friends. The safari has an average wait time of 30 minutes.

Both Mickey and the Kilimanjaro Safaris don’t open until the official park opening time, so if you have early entry and don’t want to ride Avatar, I’d recommend choosing one of the other three popular rides, and then heading to the safari/Mickey just before the park officially opens. If you’re lucky, you’ll beat the crowds and might be first in line for those.

If you don’t have early entry, I would choose between Na’vi River Journey and the safari. The benefit with the safari is that because it doesn’t open until the park opens, the early entry people won’t already be riding it (although some might get to the queue before you seeing as they’re already inside the park).

We didn’t have an early entry for Animal Kingdom, so we went to the safari first and only waited about 15 minutes. It was an easy queue because the line was moving all the time and there was plenty to look at.

Is Genie+ worth it at Animal Kingdom with toddlers and little kids?

Maharajah Jungle trek.

I think Animal Kingdom is the Disney theme park you could most easily do without Genie+, mainly because it’s the park with the fewest attractions. But I still think Genie+ is worth having so you can minimise your time queuing. Without it, you’d still be looking at waits of up to 45 minutes for some attractions. Our little ones (ages 3 and 6) have almost zero tolerance for any line over 15 minutes, so we found Genie+ to be a sanity saver.

Practically all the rides at Animal Kingdom are included in Genie+, and the ones that aren’t (apart from Flight of Passage) never have long lines. There are also a few shows and other activities included, which is useful to guarantee a spot at a specific time.

Here’s a full list of the Genie+ attractions at Animal Kingdom in alphabetical order. Remember this is subject to change at any time, so do check the app/website for what’s on offer when you visit. I’ve split them into rides, and shows/character meets.


Shows, activities and character meets

Our Genie+ strategy for Animal Kingdom with little kids

Walking around Discovery Island at Animal Kingdom.

We decided to buy a lightening lane for Avatar Flight of Passage because our youngest was too small to ride it, so we didn’t want to be separated for ages while we waited in line. Plus our eldest hates queuing, so we didn’t fancy a 90-minute wait!

We didn’t have early entry, so we chose the safari as our first ride, and this is how the day panned out. Note that the kids had already met Mickey at Magic Kingdom, so we didn’t do this. If we had wanted to, I’d have made it our second Genie+ selection at 11am.

7am: Book genie+ for Navi river ride at 10:30am. Genie+ cost $17 each.

7:55: Arrive to park (a bit later than planned)

8am: Book Flight of Passage lightening lane for 9:20am. Then go straight to the Kilimanjaro Safari. The line took about 15 min.

8:45am: Walk around the Gorilla Falls Exploration trail and start doing Wildnerness Explorers activities.

9:30: Flight of Passage for Otis and Steve, while Arlo and I explore Pandora (ate a tasty pineapple cream cheese spring roll!)

10ish: I ride Flight of Passage while Steve and kids browse the gift shop.

10:30ish: N’avi river journey with Genie+. Book next Genie+ for Lion King at 12pm

11:30am: Early lunch in Satu’li Canteen

12:00: Festival of the Lion King show

1pm: Kali River Rapids with Genie+ (5 min wait)

1:30: Maharajah jungle trek

2pm: Steve and I take turns to do Everest roller coaster with Genie+ (less than 5 min wait) while boys play in Boneyard playground. Book next Genie+ for Bugs Life.

2:30pm: Triceratops spin (walk on). Then walk around and see Kevin the Bird dancing

3pm: Bugs Life

3:30pm: Watch flotillas.

4pm: Leave the park

Quick guide to the best rides for toddlers and little kids at Animal Kingdom

Ride at Animal Kingdom.

Here’s a quick guide to the rides at Animal Kingdom and their suitability for different ages/fear levels. I have info on other attractions, including shows and animal experiences in the sections below.

The most gentle rides for toddlers and little kids at Animal Kingdom

  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Naʻvi River Journey
  • TriceraTop Spin
  • Wildlife Express Train

Animal Kingdom rides that might be scary for nervous/very little riders

  • Kali River Rapids (38in / 97cm)
  • Avatar: Flight of Passage (44in/112cm)

Animal Kingdom rides for more confident and older children

  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (44in/112cm)
  • DINOSAUR – (40in/102cm)

Descriptions of all Animal Kingdom rides for kids

Pandora Animal Kindgom.

Rides in Pandora – The World of Avatar

Avatar: Flight of Passage

Avatar: Flight of Passage is one of the most incredible, joyful rides I’ve been on – I genuinely felt like I was flying through Pandora on the back of a banshee! It’s an exhilarating 3D simulator ride with sights, smells and sound effects that bring the whole thing to life in an impressive, immersive experience. The banshee even warms and breathes beside your legs. T

That said, because it feels so real, it can also be quite scary for kids. Our eldest son (age 6) loved the ride, but also found it scary and definitely didn’t want to ride it a second time.

The sitting position for this ride is also quite odd as you’re leaning over the ‘banshee’ and the restraint is on your back. My son really didn’t like the feeling of this, and I also found it a bit claustrophobic.

Na’vi River Journey

Navi River Journey.

The Na’vi River Journey is a beautiful boat ride through a bioluminescent rainforest where you see all sorts of exotic flora and fauna from the land of Pandora. The animatronic Na’vi people are impressive, especially the Shaman on Songs. It’s a magical experience.

It’s suitable for all ages – the only barrier is that it’s a dark ride, so could be scary for children who are afraid of the dark.

Rides in Animal Kingdom’s Africa

Kilimanjaro Safaris

We were all really impressed by the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. It’s about as close as you can get to the real thing outside of Africa, and Disney has done an impressive job of making it all feel authentic.

Guests ride in an open-air safari truck through a re-created African savannah, encountering live animals along the way. The guides keep it entertaining, telling jokes and fun facts for the 20-minute journey.

We saw all sorts of animals, including elephants, lions, white rhinos, hippos, giraffes, and zebras. Remember, not all sightings are guaranteed because the animals are free to roam and may be out of sight. We were surprised by the authenticity of it all (not quite as good as this though!).

Rides in Animal Kingdom’s Asia

Kali River Rapids

Riding Kali River Rapids.

The Kali River Rapids have gone down in history in our family as the ride where everyone got a lot more soaked than I’d led them to believe they would! Yep, I’d read that you didn’t get that wet on this ride, but in reality, we all got drenched from head to toe! So don’t make the same mistake – if you want to stay dry, this is not the ride for you.

It’s a classic river rapids ride where you sit in a big circular raft and go on a turbulent ride with a few twists, turns and drops. Overall, it’s fairly mild, but there’s one fairly large slide/drop, which my sons were scared of. And the frenetic pace also scared them a bit.

But by far the biggest issue for them was the water, and they both hated getting so wet! Other kids their age were loving it though, so make a call based on what your children are like.

Expedition Everest

Asia Animal Kingdom.

Expedition Everest is a really fun, classic rollercoaster that takes you on a high-speed ride through the Himalayas. There’s a whole backwards section,as well as parts that are in the darkness of the mountain’s caves, and a hair-raising moment where it looks as though the track ahead is broken!

Our little ones don’t enjoy fast rollercoasters, so we rode this alone. But it could be a fun one for kids who like fast rides. You have to be at least 44 inches to ride.

Wildlife Express Train

This train ride takes guests on a scenic journey to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, where you can explore animal exhibits, a petting zoo, and learn about wildlife conservation. There’s also a fun animation experience that older kids would enjoy.

The train is more a means of transport than a ride, but little kids will enjoy it and Rafiki’s Planet Watch is a fun place to explore.

Rides in DinoLand U.S.A

TriceraTop Spin

TricerTop Spin attraction at Animal Kingdom.

TriceraTop Spin is a flying ride, similar to the Dumbo elephants in Magic Kingdom. It’s a gentle, whimsical ride, ideal for small kids. And it’s right next to the Bone Yard playground.


DINOSAUR is a dark ride that takes guests back in time to rescue a dinosaur before a meteor strike. The ride features sudden drops, tight turns, and encounters with animatronic dinosaurs. I watched a YouTube video beforehand and decided it was probably too scary for our little ones, but other kids might love it.

How to meet characters at Animal Kingdom

A close up photo of Kevin at Animal Kingdom.

There aren’t that many characters to meet in Animal Kingdom and the ones that are there often have long lines (probably because the park attracts a lot of little kids).

You can book to meet Mickey and Minnie via Genie+, but otherwise the line was around 50 minutes on the day we visited. The Genie+ reservations also ran out pretty quickly by around 1pm.

Other characters who were in the park the day we visited included: Moana, Mirabelle from Encanto, Timon and Rafiki, Chip and Dale, and Kevin, Russel and Dug from Up.

We found that the lines to meet characters were very long – for example it would have been a 50-minute wait to meet Moana. This was a shame as the kids really wanted to meet her but weren’t up for the wait. You can’t even see her from afar as she’s inside, which isn’t always the case with other characters. So don’t promise a meet-up with Moana unless you’re prepared to queue! I wish this had been included in Genie+.

We did, however, see some of the characters on the flotillas that ride along the river throughout the day. You can see them from the bridges or the banks of the river, and it’s a good chance for kids to wave at characters including Timon, Kevin and Russel from Up, and Donald Duck and Goofy.

Character dining at Animal Kingdom

Another sure-fire way to meet characters at Animal Kingdom is to book a meal at a character dining restaurant. There is currently only one option – the Tusker House Restaurant – where you can have an African-inspired buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner with Donald Duck and other Disney pals.

Best shows for toddlers and kids at Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom has some fantastic shows, including the Lion King, which I think is the best show in all of Disney World.

There are no fireworks because of the animals.

Here are some of the show highlights at Animal Kingdom.

Festival of the Lion King

Lion King Show Animal Kingdom.

This Broadway-level show is an incredible adaptation of The Lion King that’s widely considered the best of all the Disney World shows. Acrobats, singers, dancers and puppetry bring the story to life in a vibrant production that delights both adults and kids. Our boys were completely captivated – it’s one of my favourite Disney memories.

It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

With a fun location inside the Tree of Life, It’s Tough to Be a Bug is a 3D show featuring characters from A Bug’s Life. You don special glasses to experience the world from a bug’s perspective, complete with 3D visuals, animatronics, and in-theatre effects like smells and sprays. You experience everything as a tiny bug so it can be a bit scary in places with a few frights along the way.

Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!

This musical stage show retells the story of Finding Nemo using puppetry, live performers, and original songs. The show is set in the underwater world and features impressive sets and special effects. It’s a Disney family favourite and one that’s suitable for all ages, especially little kids.

Feathered Friends in Flight!

Feathered Friends in Flight! Is a live bird show where trainers show of the bird’s skills and teach you about their behaviour. We didn’t do this one as the boys were just too tired by the time the opportunity came around.

The Character Flotilla Parades on the Discovery River

Throughout the day, characters appear on flotillas in a parade along the Discovery River. To be honest, I was expecting a lot more, having seen the Magic Kingdom parade. But it’s nothing like that.

The flotillas, which aren’t overly decorated, come out one by one with the characters waving to people on the shore. It felt like there was a 5-minute gap between each flotilla, so it’s quite drawn out. I wouldn’t really call it a parade, so don’t go expecting something like the one at Magic Kingdom! If you keep your expectations low and see this as an opportunity to wave at some Disney characters then you’ll have a better time.

There used to be a nighttime parade, which sounded more impressive with lights and lanterns on the water, but they haven’t brought that back yet post-pandemic.

Street performances

There are a few street performances in Animal Kingdom, including the Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe in Africa. And Kevin (the bird from Up) comes out and does a fun dance performance throughout the day, which is great for little kids.

Other ways to have fun at Animal Kingdom with toddlers and little kids

Visit the animals

There are animal enclosures all around Animal Kingdom, but the best places to see them, aside from on the Kilimajaro Safari, is by walking through the Maharajah jungle trek in Asia and the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Africa.

Both are beautiful trails where you get to see all sorts of animals, from tigers to gorillas to Komodo dragons. It’s one of the best zoo environments I’ve ever been to with spacious enclosures and a lush setting. There are lots of activities along the way, which leads me to the next point…

Wilderness Explorers program

Remember Russell, the young Wilderness Explorer from Up? Well, at Animal Kingdom kids can be Wilderness Explorers too. Pick up a free field guide from any of the Wilderness Explorer stations around the park and make your way around all of them, collecting ‘badges’ (stickers) along the way.

You get your stickers by completing a little lesson/activity with cast members stationed near the animals throughout the park. For example, you might learn about animal calls, tracking or conservation. It’s a fun and educational way to get the kids engaged.

The Boneyard playground

The Boneyard is the best playground I saw in any of the Disney World parks. It’s an open-air play area designed to look like a dinosaur dig site. Children can climb, slide, and dig for fossils in a shaded area of Dinoland USA. Our kids could have stayed there for hours.

Animation Experience at the Conservation Station 

I would have loved the boys to do the Animation Experience at the Conservation Station – an activity where a Disney animator teaches the audience how to draw a favourite character step-by-step.

Otis (6) would have liked it, but he was keen to stick with his little brother who was a bit too young. They do offer crayons for younger kids, but I think Arlo might have got a little bored in the half an hour. This would be a great activity for older (or more patient) kids or anyone interested in drawing and animation.

Affection Section (Petting Zoo) in Rafiki’s Planet Watch

This will be a big hit with kids who love animals and feel confident interacting with them (unlike my kids!). It’s a cute petting zoo (the only one in Disney World) and has animals including goats, sheep, chickens and llamas.

Where to eat in Animal Kingdom with toddlers and little kids

Satuli Canteen Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom has both quick-service and table-service restaurants that are good for all ages. We tend to prefer the quick-service options when dining with kids at Disney so we have more flexibility and don’t have to book a table. You can order your food via the app and then go straight to the counter to collect it, which also saves time.

Some of our favourite food:

  • Grab a pineapple cream cheese spring roll from Pongu Pongu in Pandora.
  • The Satu’li Canteen quick-service restaurant has some healthy meals for both kids and adults. We loved the chilli-spiced crispy tofu bowl (although be warned, even the kids version was spicy).
  • Harambe Market has good veggie options, including veggie kofta pittas.
  • The Flame Tree BBQ comes highly recommended
  • There is one character dining experience at Animal Kingdom – the Tusker House Restaurant where you can eat with Donald Duck and other Disney pals.

Best places to stay near Animal Kingdom with kids

The most convenient place of all to stay for Animal Kingdom is at Animal Kingdom Lodge itself. This safari-themed hotel is a Disney Deluxe resort and some of the rooms have views of the savannah, so you might even wake up to the site of an elephant or giraffe!

At the other end of the scale, the Disney All-Star Resorts, which are the cheapest of all the Disney hotels, are very close to Animal Kingdom, so a really good option if you’re looking for a more budget place to stay. The All Star resorts are: Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort.

Buy your Disney World tickets now

Check the Disney website (USA and UK), as well as Undercover Tourist and Get Away Today for the latest deals on Disney tickets.

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