Disney Animal Kingdom Secrets You’ll Want to Know

Amanda Williams Avatar
a display of items at disney's harambe

Disney’s Animal Kingdom doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Some Walt Disney World visitors think that it is just a “big zoo.” That couldn’t be further from the truth! Not only is Animal Kingdom the largest theme park in the world at over 575 acres but it is filled with hidden gems and delicious restaurants. Here are some of the Animal Kingdom secrets that will enrich your next visit. 

Snap a picture with the Dinoland USA highway signs.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on Earth Day in 1998. A fun “Easter egg” that the Imagineers fit in can be seen on the highway signs in Dinoland USA. Reading “Route 498”, it’s a reference to the park’s opening in April 1998. 

photo of animal kingdom entry area in florida
Did you know there are two ways to get into Walt Disney World‘s Animal Kingdom? Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Avoid Animal Kingdom entry lines by using the gift shop entrance.

See that crowd gathered before rope drop? Pass ’em by. There is a second, less frequented entrance to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the rear of the Rainforest Cafe gift shop. The Rainforest Cafe is to the left of the theme park’s main entrance and has a small gate to the park.

After you get through bag check, just enter Rainforest Cafe and walk through the gift shop to the back entrance. Exit through those doors and travel to turnstiles straight into the Animal Kingdom park.

Plan your itinerary carefully to see the most animals.

The safari space at Animal Kingdom is so large that almost all of Magic Kingdom could fit into it! Animals residing in the 110-acre oasis are mostly crepuscular — active at dawn and dusk. Ride the 18-minute (give or take) Kilimanjaro Safaris open-air ride early or late, not mid-day. That will increase the chances you’ll catch some animal action.

Afternoon safaris are less popular so lines are traditionally shorter. Optimize for low crowds by going on safari when the other bipedal animals in the park (the humans) are eating.

If you can, plan a morning AND an evening ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Speaking of Kilimanjaro Safaris, don’t just ride once. This ride transports you from sunny Florida to the sweltering African savannah. Each tour guide shares different stories and jokes. It’s nice to start and end your visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom by going on this amazing up-close and personal African animal trek. 

The ride (and the savannah) is completely different after dark. You won’t find the hidden Mickeys or spot some of the intricate daytime details, but alligator eyes shining in the headlights are quite thrilling! Lions who snooze through the day are also more active – and vocal – after dark.

a lion takes a nap on a large rock with greenery and a tree in the background at Disney's Animal Kingdom
It’s almost like they planned a way to lure the lions out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Spoiler alert- they did. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

Sneaky design secrets improve Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Some Animal Kingdom secrets aren’t visible to guests, but the results are. Disney Imagineers hid an air conditioning vent in “Pride Rock”. The lions love to lay on the cool rock which leads to a better chance for guests to spot these majestic cats! 

Other design secrets? The animals bed down in pens at night and are sound-conditioned to come in when they hear the nightly cue. Restrooms in this theme park have outer doors – this is a safety secret! Should an animal be at large, guests can shelter in the restrooms until the animal is apprehended.

Keep an eye out for hidden Mickeys.

One fun game at any Walt Disney World theme park is to keep an eye out for hidden Mickeys. They are cleverly hidden in all aspects of the parks from how merchandise is arranged to more permanent displays. One to watch for on Kilimanjaro Safaris is the pond where the flamingos hang out.

a glowing purple and blue singing Na'Vi shaman at the end of the Na'Vi River Journey ride alongside nightshades
Na’vi River Journey at Animal Kingdom’s World of Avatar offers stunning visuals. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Pandora at night is stunning.

Don’t get us wrong. Pandora – World of Avatar can absolutely be enjoyed by daylight. At night though? The whole land takes on a magical quality. Even the ground has hidden luminescent designs in it. During the day, the indoor lines at Avatar Flight of Passage can be a great way to stay cool at Disney.

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a young toddler with curly hair and a watermelon printed sundress peers through the gate of the wildlife express train at animal kingdom
Waiting for the Wildlife Express Train, a 1.2-mile trek taking guests from Harambe Station in the Africa section to Conservation Station in the Rafiki’s Planet Watch section. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Don’t skip Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

I have a special place in my heart for Rafiki’s Planet Watch. We know some visitors skip this area because it is separate from the rest of the park. You’ll need to take the Wildlife Express Train from Harambe Station in order to get there. It’s worth it. Kids will love petting goats in the Affection Section. You can watch Animal Kingdom’s vets during live appointments with their animal patients at the Conservation Station.

One of the coolest offerings (in our opinion) is the opportunity to take an animation class with a Disney Animator. They walk you through the step-by-step process of drawing your favorite Disney characters. You’ll discover your inner artist.

Look closely at the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life isn’t just an Animal Kingdom family photo opportunity. There are over 300 animals carved into the Tree of Life, which is not a real tree (no secret there!). Don’t forget to walk the Discovery Island Trails to try to spot the animals up close.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tree of Life was built to be the heart of the park. At the heart of the tree is a repurposed oil rig. It was used as the structural base for the tree!

If you are looking for nighttime fun at Disney’s Animal Kingdom be sure to see if the Tree of Life Awakenings is scheduled during your visit. It is scheduled to return in the fall of 2023.

SheBuysTravel Tip: See if you can spot a carving of chimp David Greybeard. It’s next to a plaque honoring the chimp’s friend, Jane Goodall.

Over 2,000 animals call Disney’s Animal Kingdom home.

Around 2,000 animals representing 300 species live at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Millions of trees, grasses and shrubs from all around the globe were incorporated to build the habitat.

When ride lines are long, take a break to walk the many paths that wind through the “lands” of Animal Kingdom. In Asia, the Maharajah Jungle Trek Trail has shady spots that offer a break from the afternoon sun. You can spot Sumatran tigers, gibbons, Komodo dragons, water buffalo and more. Africa features the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. Meerkats, zebras, hippos, gorillas and more inhabit this area of Animal Kingdom.

soaking riders on the kali river rapids ride at animal kingdom from the bridge above
It’s invigorating to squirt riders on the Kali River Rapids rafts below. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

Spray other unsuspecting guests with water.

Have you ever come off of Kali River Rapids wondering how in the world you got so wet? Well, there is a button that bystanders can press to make the elephant trunks that squirt water soak Kali River Rapids riders more.

While you’re waiting for the next raft to come through check out the gibbons. Their island is a vast network of bamboo, swings, netting and other ways for them to stay active. Treats are even hidden around for them to find as enrichment.

Meet Moana and other Animal Kingdom characters.

It’s not exactly a secret but for a long time, there weren’t a lot of Disney character greetings at Animal Kingdom. In fact, after parks reopened following Covid closures, there weren’t any!

Now visitors can pose for pictures with Moana at Character Landing. Check for times during your visit.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse greet visitors at Adventurers Outpost. Kevin from UP is known to wander around Discovery Island.

Watch the Water for other Animal Kingdom characters.

Other Animal Kingdom characters can be found taking to the water! Flotillas were started as a social distancing measure but we’re so glad that they kept them at Animal Kingdom. Different Animal Kingdom characters float by regularly including Russell and Dug from Disney’s UP, Scrooge McDuck and Launchpad McQuack and Goofy and Pluto on the Dino-Bash flotilla. Characters from Pocahontas and The Lion King can also be spotted on the waterways.

Scenery along the waterway path to Pandora in Disney's Animal Kingdom
Keep an eye on waterways for Animal Kingdom characters on flotillas. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Wait in line at Expedition Everest at least once.

There’s a tendency to race through the line at Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. People jump in the single rider line or book a Lightning Lane entry to save time. That time saving comes at a cost though. The queue itself actually hides tons of secret details including authentic items from real Everest expeditions. Even the computers on display were bought from Nepalese vendors.

You may already know this secret. Only one year into Expedition Everest’s run the animatronic Yeti (which used to move) was damaged. The secret none of us know? Why it has remained broken since. Since then a strobe light is used to simulate motion and bring him to life.

Book a meal at Tusker House to meet Disney characters.

Animal Kingdom restaurants are just part of the reason we unabashedly sing the praises of this adventurous park. An insider tip: book a seating at Tusker House and you’ll collect four main Disney characters during the lunch or dinner buffet. It’s typically Goofy, Mickey, Donald and Daisy. The fun part is that they are in their safari garb.

For a little secret fun, consider sitting outside. You’ll hear a commotion in the kitchen and may shudder when you hear glass breaking! Don’t be afraid for your server’s paycheck. Those noises are an audio recording and are fun to enjoy while eating or people-watching!

a selection of animal kingdom foods including grilled chicken skewer, cilantro corn with beans and jicama slaw
Chicken skewer and jicama slaw with cilantro corn and bean side. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Yak & Yeti’s is the best bang for your snack buck.

When you get hungry making your way from Kilimanjaro to Everest, here’s our little secret. To get the biggest bang for your snack buck head to Yak & Yeti for fried rice. It’s filling and affordable. You can also browse the Harambe region for lunch specials. The meat kabobs with bean salsa are a steal! Black bean veggie burgers are another affordable favorite. Desserts at Pandora are decadent and almost too pretty to eat.

Flame Tree Barbecue is a fan favorite. Pagodas provide shade, but those wanting to devour Disney secrets will enjoy the theme of predator and prey at each setting. Tables are prey and chairs depict predators – owls and rabbits, for instance. See how many your kids can find!

Listen for single-rider opportunities.

Don’t want to spend 90 minutes in line waiting to ride Avatar Flight of Passage? Listen up. Sometimes, especially in the early morning when the line winds through Pandora, Disney cast members will pull single riders from the main line to fill in empty seats. You’ll get on much faster if you listen for that call and volunteer.

This opportunity is only available when needed, so consider it part of the “Disney Magic,” not something you should count on.  

Disney's Animal Kingdom Pandora Pongu Pongu snack stop
Get a Night Blossom at Pongu Pongu. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Get a Dole Whip without the wait (and with a special ingredient).

EPCOT isn’t the only place to find a boozy slush drink or a good adult beverage with an other-worldly twist. You can get a grown-up version of the famous Walt Disney World treat – Dole Whip – with rum and without the wait. Just head to Tamu Tamu in Africa. It’s especially satisfying and refreshing on a hot day.

Over in Pandora – The World of Avatar, enjoy a brilliantly colored and boldly flavored (non-alcoholic) Night Blossom at Pongu Pongu. The concoction consists of limeade with apple and desert pear topped with passion fruit-flavored boba balls. Meaning “Party Party” in the language of the Na’vi, this bioluminescent drink will quench your thirst after soaring on Avatar Flight of Passage. If you want to take it to another level ask for the Rum Blossom, which of course adds rum.

You won’t find balloons at Animal Kingdom.

If you’re looking for a balloon to buy at Animal Kingdom you’ll be searching for a LONG time. This Disney theme park doesn’t sell them because they would pose a hazard to animals if they floated away and broke!

There is a way to get even closer to the animals.

It comes with a price but Disney does offer special tours and experiences that include the VIP Wild Africa Trek and Savor the Savana. We recommend checking them out right after you book your trip. They both involve food and depending on your travel party may be a more unique choice than booking a sit-down meal.

A cheaper add-on is the Caring for Giants experience which allows you to get closer to the elephants.

Over 10,000 pounds of food is prepared for Animal Kingdom residents daily.

With so many species the Animal Nutrition team has their hands full. We are hoping that they bring back their behind-the-scenes experience that included animal care. It’s fascinating to see how meals are prepped and what surprising treats are on hand (Coca-Cola!).

What other Animal Kingdom secrets are lurking out there?

Amanda Williams is a journalist in rural Minnesota. Her stories have been published in Matador Travel Network, Midwest Living, Family Handyman, and several other publications. A solo mother of two young boys, she writes about adventures from National Parks to waterparks. She loves sharing tips and insider information for others to use to make their trip just a little bit better. She and her kids scuba dive and live for new experiences and thrills. Road trips are always on the horizon and she’s embraced van life and has driven from the Midwest to Alaska (via Canada) with her kids encompassing 32 days of wild adventures. Amanda is classically trained as a wildlife biologist and has worked as a National Park Ranger, in addition to other exciting jobs like being a wildland firefighter and even playing the part of a living historian, as a cook in a turn-of-the-century logging camp. Because of these outdoorsy experiences, stories relating to outdoor adventure are often a focus of her writing. She hopes to inspire other solo parents to take on Disney, camping, and trips abroad with their families with the confidence to make those memories, even as the lone adult in the mix! Her most recent obsession is photographing adventures from the land, water, AND skies, as a licensed small unmanned aircraft system (drone) pilot. Learn more about her at https://www.wayfaringmandy.com/ or follow her on Instagram, @WayfaringMandy.
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7 responses

  1. My boyfriend loved these. He did request I put more cheese on them next time though. I am also going to substitute the regular marinara for a traditional pasta sauce, but that’s more of my preference.

  2. “Great twist on the original recipe! Thai is one of my favorite, too.
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    1. Love this recipe! We use it quite often. I double the carrots and celery and add minced onion flakes to it and use Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice. After a couple hours check it to see if it needs a little bit more water added.

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