The youngest of Disney World’s four theme parks, Animal Kingdom has a decidedly different feel to it than the other three. With wider walkways and a variety of little nooks with hidden discoveries, it’s a park that’s meant to be wandered around and explored at a slower pace. With great food options and two of my favorite shows on property, there are plenty of things at Animal Kingdom for adults.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris – Fun fact: my little brother used to be a safari driver here on Animal Kingdom’s signature attraction and got to take Bruce Willis on a ride once. This “two week” safari through the African savanna takes guests through several different animal environments. In the grassland area, the animals freely roam and ostriches and giraffes can get quite close to the trucks. Though its toned down, poacher-less version is a bit less fun than the original that saw you joining in an impromptu effort to chase down some baddies who’d captured a baby elephant, this is still a great attraction. With the park’s later hours, night time safaris are now offered, giving riders a different view of the wildlife.
- Expedition: Everest – This moderate roller coaster takes guests deep into the Himalayas as they try to escape from a rampaging Yeti. It features a really cool track system – I’m a weirdo who likes to look at things like that when I ride – that allows the trains to switch to a different set of rails and some backwards motion. I also quite enjoy the big drop as I’m all about that zero G feeling. Though its incredible yeti animatronic has been somewhat dormant for most of its life its still very cool. This one has a single rider line, so you can cut your wait time if you don’t have Fastpasses and don’t mind riding with strangers.
- Avatar Flight of Passage – You’ll want to book your Fastpasses for this one as soon as you can. This one is brand new Pandora’s signature ride, and you get to fly through landscapes on the back of a banshee. Sort of. You don’t actually get to fly anywhere, it’s a really cool simulator that sort of blends Soarin’ with the old Back to the Future ride that was at Universal. You do, however, get to design your own avatar while you wait. I’m going to be honest. I never got the whole Avatar thing and I actually thought it was a joke when the land was announced, but the ride is absolutely phenomenal. The rich details the Imagineers brought to life are fantastic though and it’s particularly beautiful at night. Find out more about Pandora here.
- Finding Nemo the Musical – Confession: I never really loved Finding Nemo that much. I just felt like it was missing something. It turns out that that something was a killer Disney-style soundtrack, and that’s exactly why I adore the Nemo Musical at Animal Kingdom. It’s a condensed retelling of Nemo’s story, but with awesome vocal performances. And there are bubbles. The gorgeous costumes (seriously, there’s some fabulous costume and set design here) combined with catchy tunes will keep both kids and adults enthralled. And did I mention that the theater is air conditioned?
- The Lion King – This one used to be my favorite Animal Kingdom show until it was eclipsed by Finding Nemo. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t great though. Animals come to life with costumes styled after the Broadway musical version and some seriously talented performers belt out all of your favorite Lion King songs. And then there are the monkeys. Timon joins forces with some “tumble monkeys” (though now that I think about it, it’s never really explained why) and they perform a really cool gymnastics routine using a trampoline, high bars, and a climb to the ceiling. I’ve seen this show dozens of times, and I’ve only ever seen them miss a trick once. They’re great. And who could pass up a chance to sing along to the Lion King hits they grew up with?
Animal Kingdom was inexplicably built with a severe lack of dining originally, but that shortcoming has since been remedied. Adults visiting Animal Kingdom will find a variety of international inspired dishes at the various restaurants and quick service spots around the park. (But don’t worry, you can still get pizza and chicken fingers if that’s more your thing.)
- Yak & Yeti – This is the rare Disney dining establishment that seems to feel quiet. It serves up a variety of south Asian food, and while I can’t comment on its authenticity, it’s pretty tasty and routinely is one of the easiest spots to snag a reservation for.. If you don’t want to pay/wait for table service, you’ll find some reasonably tasty American style Chinese dishes at the Yak & Yeti Local Markets just outside. The biggest downside for these quick service kiosks is a lack of seating and the fact that it’s all outdoors so even if you get a seat in a shaded area it’s still going to be hot in the summer.
- Tiffins – Animal Kingdom’s new signature restaurant is definitely geared toward the grown-up crowd. It’s a bit on the pricey side and has all kinds of fancy dishes.
- Nomad Lounge – This fun bar is located alongside Tiffins and serves up a small selection of appetizers. It’s real draw is the themed cocktails, though. There are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages on the menu, but this is the perfect spot for adults to take a break from the endless parade of strollers and kids on leashes.
- Satu’li Canteen – This is Pandora’s signature quick-service restaurant. It serves up Asian-ish dishes that are reasonably healthy. It’ll probably be crowded.
- Flame Tree BBQ – My favorite of Animal Kingdom’s quick service restaurants, you’ll smell this BBQ spot long before you see it. I recommend the BBQ mac and cheese, which comes stacked with the mac, pulled pork, and onion rings.
The other stuff
- See the animals – If you’re going to Animal Kingdom, you should probably see some animals along the way. You’ll pass some leafy habitats as you enter the park, but the best ones are in the Asia and Africa areas. On the walkway from Kali River Rapids to Expedition: Everest, you’ll see a fun enclosure for gibbons. They’ve never not been entertaining and watching them swing along the ropes and scaffolding is fascinating.
- The Maharajah Jungle Trek will get you up close to a gorgeous tiger. You can also see some deer and a komodo dragon.
- The Gorilla Falls trail takes you past several animal enclosures and the gorillas are the biggest highlight. There are also hippos and exotic birds along the trail. We spent quite a while watching the males interact with each other on my last trip as the young ones tried to convince the older one to play with them.
- Enjoy the music – There are all kinds of street performers, particularly in the Africa section. It’s nice to listen to the instruments and absorb the energy of the performances especially if you have a drink to sip.
Places to relax
- Walking through the previously mentioned Gorilla Falls trail is one of the most peaceful areas of the park. You can take your time and hang out just watching gorillas interact or watching tropical fish in the hippo enclosure.
- The pathway between Africa and Asia – At Animal Kingdom, you can walk between the continents with just a short stroll. The pathway between them is leafy and lush with little side paths that you can wander through. You’ll also get a nice view of the Tree of Life from the back as you walk.
- The Tree of Life – Animal Kingdom’s park icon – the big thing you’re supposed to take a classic photo in front of – is the obvious choice. You can’t miss it as you enter, and it’s a pretty impressive structure. It’s built off of an old oil rig (sorry, it’s not a real tree) and features fantastic carvings of animals all around its trunk and extensive roots. For an up-close view of some of them, wander through the It’s Tough to be a Bug queue.
- Pandora – The Pandora area was seemingly built for photographers. Every inch is richly detailed and there are all kinds of interesting plants and flowers to snap some shots of.
- The Dinosaur ride photo – While Dinosaur has never been my favorite ride, I do love the ride photo. There’s plenty of time to prepare for it, and you can set up some funny shots. There’s the classic one of your row looking the opposite direction of the rest of the car when the dinosaur is off to the side. I’m also particularly fond of a family shot of us all arguing over a map, seemingly oblivious to the dinosaur menacing our car. I’ve posed with my nose stuck in a book while everyone around me reacts. The possibilities are endless.
- Dug and Russel from Up – These are some of my favorite characters to meet. They always draw a decent line, but just watching them interact with other guests while you wait is hilarious and makes the time fly. When I took my fiance for his first ever visit, he was definitely not into meeting the characters, but even he was charmed enough by Dug’s antics that he wanted a picture of just the two of them. Russel’s feelings were very hurt by this.
Do you have any other tips about visiting Animal Kingdom for adults?
Check out the other posts in my Grown-up’s Guide to Disney series:
- The Grown-Up’s Guide to Disney World
- The Grown-Up’s Guide to Epcot
- The Grown-Up’s Guide to the Magic Kingdom
- The Grown-up’s Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios
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