Here’s What You’re Missing If You Think Disney’s Animal Kingdom Is a Half-Day Park

Disney's Animal Kingdom
Credit: Disney

How do you feel about Disney’s Animal Kingdom? For some Guests, this is the best theme park at Walt Disney World, offering the perfect mix of immersive theming, Disney storytelling, and thrilling attractions, with live animals thrown into the mix as well.

For others, this Disney theme park falls short of meeting expectations, often due to its number of attractions and lack of evening entertainment. If you fall into the latter category, you may believe that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a “half-day Park,” but that simply is not the case.

Tree of Life

Credit: Disney

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When Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, the Park really was, well, a half-day park. But this has changed dramatically in the 25 years since. Today, the theme park is home to some of Disney World’s most beloved attractions, including Kilimanjaro Safaris, DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, and Avatar: Flight of Passage, to name a few. But here’s a land-by-land look at the other attractions you might be missing.

The Oasis

The majority of Guests who visit Animal Kingdom tend to breeze right through the Oasis, the Park’s first “land,” located just beyond the entrance and before reaching the Tree of Life on Discovery Island. We can understand being excited to head right into the Park, but the Oasis Exhibits really provide an opportunity to see some of Disney’s most fascinating animal residents.

You never know who you might see, but you can easily spend some time exploring these exhibits on your way into or out of the Park. Animals who can often be spotted here include giant anteaters, babirusas, barking deer, wallabies and spoonbills.

Spoonbill from the Oasis Exhibits at Disney'sAnimal Kingdom

Credit: Disney

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Discovery Island

Moving onto Discovery Island, the Tree of Life is certainly a focus here but did you know lots of Guests actually skip the attraction that’s housed within the Park icon? Okay, we understand it a little bit, as It’s Tough to Be a Bug can certainly be traumatizing for Guests who are a little squeamish, but it could still be worth trying once to see what you think.

Discovery Island is also home to some of the best shops and restaurants in the Park. If you can’t find a specialty Disney item (think spirit jerseys, Dooney and Bourke bags, Minnie ear headbands…) chances are you will find them here. Most Guests who not think to shop here for some of Disney’s most popular souvenirs, so these locations sell out far slower than their alternatives in other Parks.

Ribs at Flame Tree BArbecue

Credit: Brittany DiCologero / Disney Tips

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Moving onto the eats, Pizzafari is a popular choice for quick-service pizza on Discovery Island, but we need to direct your attention to Flame Tree Barbecue. The smoked ribs, chicken, and pulled pork at Flame Tree Barbecue rival Disney’s table-service barbecue spots and are not to be missed. For a similar flavor on a budget or time crunch, visit Eight Spoon Cafe, a nearby kiosk that serves a small and less expensive version of Flame Tree’s famous pulled pork mac and cheese.

But back to the animals, since we’re in Animal Kingdom after all. The Discovery Island Trails feature several species you won’t see anywhere else in the Park including:

  • White Stork
  • Asian Small-Clawed Otter
  • Red Kangaroo
  • West African Crowned Crane
  • African Crested Porcupine
  • Galapagos Tortoise
  • Lesser Flamingo
  • Macaw
  • Ring-Tailed Lemur
  • Saddle-Billed Stork
  • Lappet Face Vulture
Galapagos Tortoise at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Credit: Brittany DiCologero / Disney Tips

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DinoLand U.S.A.

DinoLand U.S.A. is sort of an outlier in the places you might be missing if you think Animal Kingdom is a half-day experience, as this land is unfortunately not well-loved by the majority of fans. There are still loads of details to take in while visiting DinoLand that could help you make sense of the area’s storyline (which is a topic for another post, but we’ve covered it here.)

As for things you might be missing in DinoLand, chances are riding DINOSAUR is on your list, as well as Triceratop Spin if you have little ones in the family, but we’d also implore you to check out the Fossil Fun Games in Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama. Yes, they are tacky, but that’s kind of the point. Kids will also love playing in the Boneyard, and the whole family can grab a burger at Restaurantosaurus, an ice cream sandwich at Dino-Bite Snacks, or buffalo chicken chips at Trilo-Bites.

Before you leave DinoLand, don’t miss seeing the American Crocodile or the character meet and greets that are part of Donald’s Dino Bash. And, as you leave DinoLand and head toward Asia, it is always worth catching a performance of Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond.

Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama

Credit: Brittany DiCologero / Disney Tips

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Asia is home to some of the most popular Animal Kingdom attractions, including Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids, so you are probably not missing those. This land is also where you will find a fan-favorite restaurant, Yak & Yeti, along with its quick-service counterpart.

If taking a walk through the Maharajah Jungle Trek is not already on your list in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you need to add it. Oftentimes, Guests who believe the Park to be a half-day experience are missing out on the animal walking trails. (And we get it, no one wants to do any more walking during a Disney vacation, but when at Animal Kingdom, see the animals.)

Maharajah Jungle Trek is home to the Park’s best bird watching, along with tigers, komodo dragons, and bats, just to name a few. Elsewhere in Asia Guests can see Gibbons or take a seat to watch Feathered Friends in Flight, which includes several species of birds.

Gibbons in Asia at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Credit: Brittany DiCologero / Disney Tips

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Much like Asia, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Festival of the Lion King are probably already on your to-do list. But when you exit Kilimanjaro Safaris, which way do you go; back to Harambe Village or onto the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail? In the spirit of seeing everything that Animal Kingdom has to offer, we have to recommend that you not skip this animal walking trail.

The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail includes several African animals, including gorillas of course, as well as zebra, meerkats, and more. And back in Harambe, you can find some of the best snacks in the Park, like the grilled corn with African spices (found right outside Kilimanjaro Safaris) and DOLE Whips (some with rum for Guests 21 and over) at Tamu Tamu Refreshments.

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Credit: Brittany DiCologero / Disney Tips

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

If you believe Animal Kingdom is a half-day experience, you might be missing Rafiki’s Planet Watch altogether. It is sort of time consuming to take the Wildlife Express Train to the furthest point of the Park, but it is certainly worth it.

The train ride itself gives a glimpse into backstage areas Guests otherwise would not see. And once at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Guests can visit Conservation Station, which showcases veterinary facilities at the Park and houses the Animation Experience, where you can learn how to draw favorite Disney characters.

But the best part of Rafiki’s Planet Watch is the Affection Section, a petting zoo where Guests can encounter several species of goats, sheep, and pigs.

Affection Section at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Credit: Brittany DiCologero / Disney Tips

Pandora – The World of Avatar

Pandora is most known for the Park’s most popular attraction, Avatar: Flight of Passage, but there is a lot to see in Animal Kingdom’s newest land. The less-thrilling ride, Navi River Journey, should also be on your list as it features one of Disney’s most advanced Audio-Animatronics figures.

But Pandora is also one of the best theme park lands for foodies. Satu’li Canteen offers quick-service dining that allows Guests to customize bowls with a base, protein, and sauce (my favorite is noodles with beef and chimichurri sauce), along with cheeseburger pods that seriously rival the famous cheeseburger egg rolls in the Magic Kingdom.

Outside the main restaurant, Pongu Pongu serves one of Disney’s best pretzels along with several delicious specialty drinks like the Night Blossom, or its boozy counterpart, the Rum Blossom.

pandora - the world of avatar

Credit: Disney

Of course, Pandora is breathtaking after dark when the land is lit up with bioluminescence on the ground and plants and lighting on the floating mountains. So if you happen to find yourself in Animal Kingdom on a day with a later closing time, be sure to stick around to see it.

Do you still think Animal Kingdom is a half-day Park? Since we couldn’t even cover all of the Park’s character meet and greets (and dining at Tusker House), the Wilderness Explorers program, signature dining at Tiffins, and entertainment, we just don’t believe it’s possible to do everything in Animal Kingdom in just one day.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not represent Disney Tips as a whole. 

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."