Insider Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom with Preschoolers and Young Children

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Walk on one of the many shaded trails at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.

When we arrived at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it was the fourth day of an epic Disney trip.

We’d visited the three other Walt Disney World parks (the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios), and each park had been dazzling. This was our first trip as a family to Disney, and my kids (ages 4, 4 and 7) were running on happy energy.

But as we walked through The Oasis Exhibits (the leafy, green animal habitats that form the entrance corridor to the park), I started to wonder if this might be our favorite park yet. Canopied by shade, we passed giant anteaters, spoonbills and bubbling waterfalls. It was gorgeous. I knew immediately that my kids were going to love it here.

Here’s what we learned on our family trip, and everything you need to know to make a trip to Animal Kingdom with little ones top-notch.

The Tree of Life at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
The Tree of Life at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Todd Anderson, courtesy of Disney

Travel Around the World at Animal Kingdom

In Africa (one of Animal Kingdom’s themed lands), we hopped aboard an open-air safari vehicle for Kilimanjaro Safaris, an 18-minute guided tour of a 110-acre lush African savanna. We spotted graceful giraffes, a hippopotamus duo, a white rhino, cheetahs, gazelles and a lion.

On the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, we trekked along winding paths through a 5-acre tropical forest and spotted curious meerkats, a gerenuk and a family of western lowland gorillas. The best part about the trail is that it’s self-guided, which is perfect for families.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Budding scientists and future veterinarians will want to ride the Wildlife Express Train to the Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, where families can get a close-up look at veterinary treatment, resident scientists at work and experts preparing food for the animals. The station’s petting zoo is also not to be missed.

In Asia, the Maharajah Jungle Trek offers families the chance to explore mystical trails and view animals such as Asian tigers, gibbons, a komodo dragon and more than 50 species of birds. For thrill-seekers, Kali River Rapids brings a whitewater adventure (note: you will get wet!) and Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain is a roller coaster that careens through Himalayan peaks on a speeding train. (With a height requirement of 44 inches or taller, this one is not for the little ones.)

Preschoolers can have lunch with Daisy Duck at Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House restaurant.
Lunch with Daisy Duck at Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House restaurant. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Dine with Disney Characters at Animal Kingdom

One of the best meals we ate at Disney was at Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House

This restaurant offers a plentiful buffet of some of the most amazing African-inspired dishes. We noshed on naan with house-made hummus and tzatziki sauce, quinoa and chickpea salad, Chermoula salmon, green curry shrimp and Moroccan Harira soup. There are plenty of kid-friendly options such as house-made macaroni and cheese, green beans and corn dog nuggets, too.

But aside from the delicious cuisine (which is reason enough to go here!), Tusker House is a character dining experience. As we dined, Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy stopped by our table multiple times to take photos and chat with the kids.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The restaurant even offers kids souvenir cards with all of the characters’ autographs on them, and the characters and staff parade down the aisles singing a festive song during the meal.

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A stop at Tusker House is absolutely a “must-do” item for any of our family’s future visits to Animal Kingdom.

Preschoolers can enjoy the musical performance Festival of the Lion King at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
The musical performance Festival of the Lion King at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Ryan Wendler, courtesy of Disney

See World-Class Stage Shows at Animal Kingdom

Our family loves Disney’s classic film The Lion King, and the park’s lauded Festival of the Lion King show is spectacular.

Performed in the round (where the audience surrounds the stage), there’s not a bad seat in the house for this powerful Broadway-style musical revue. The show features large-scale puppetry, acrobatics, songs and performances based on the movie, and the audience is invited to interact with the performers during the show. Our seven-year-old was selected to participate in the show, and she returned to her seat grinning from ear to ear after.

Another performance favorite at the park is Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…And Beyond! In this colorful stage show, performers, puppetry, songs and special effects combine to create a 25-minute show that’s perfect for small children.

Take your kids to the Boneyard play area in Dinoland U.S.A. at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
At The Boneyard play area in Dinoland U.S.A. at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Travel Back in Time at Animal Kingdom

In the themed land of Dinoland U.S.A., we soared above trees on a triceratops gondola for TriceraTop Spin, a thrilling ride for little ones.

The walkthrough Cretaceous Trail showcases plants that date back to the Cretaceous period, dinosaur sculptures, a Dino Institute dig and plenty of photo ops.

But my kids’ favorite attraction of all was The Boneyard, an expansive open-air play space (for kids 10 and under) designed to look like a dinosaur dig. My kids scaled rope ladders and bridges, climbed through caves, slid down slides and laughed and played with other children. There is ample seating for parents, too, offering a much-needed place to relax while the kids play.

Go thro the bioluminescent rainforest journey of Na’vi River Journey at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
The bioluminescent rainforest journey Na’vi River Journey at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Steven Diaz, courtesy of Disney

Visit Kid-friendly Experiences and Rides at Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to many attractions and experiences that are great for young kids.

Beneath the Tree of Life, stroll along wooden footbridges and through tunnels on the self-guided journey Discovery Island Trails, or step into a hidden theater at the base of the tree for the 3D film and live show It’s Tough to be a Bug!, inspired by the Disney and Pixar movie A Bug’s Life.

Fans of James Cameron’s Avatar will appreciate Pandora – The World of Avatar, a themed land that encompasses the self-led hike Valley of Mo’ara and the bioluminescent rainforest journey Na’vi River Journey, a gentle boat ride that’s perfect for young children. Older children and adults will want to try Avatar Flight of Passage, a 3D flight ride over Pandora’s incredible landscape.

There are Maasai giraffes as seen from Kilimanjaro Safaris at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
Maasai giraffes as seen from Kilimanjaro Safaris at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: David Roark, courtesy of Disney

How to Skip the Lines and Get the Best Photos at Animal Kingdom

If you’re planning to do rides with young kids at Animal Kingdom, invest in Lightning Lanes. Lightning Lane entry (which replaced the prior FastPass system) allows you to bypass an attraction’s line and join a much shorter line for certain experiences. Some Lightning Lane entrances can be purchased through Disney Genie+ service, while others can be purchased individually.

However you buy them, Lightning Lane access will allow you to skip waiting in long lines – something that made our Disney experience much better when traveling with young children.

Another service that improved our experience at Disney was renting strollers for our kids. We ended up renting two double strollers: one for our two preschoolers, and another for the seven year old and our backpack (because even at age 7, a stroller can seem like a good idea when you’ve been walking all day).

SheBuysTravel Tip: The SheBuysTravel guide to renting strollers at Walt Disney World has essential info for families on this topic, including how to make yours stand out in a crowded buggy parking lot.

Last but not least: if you want great photos of your Disney vacation, Disney PhotoPass is fantastic. It allows you to have professional photos taken at locations throughout Disney’s theme parks, and the Memory Maker option allows you to pay one price for all of them. Disney’s MagicBand+ made this especially easy, allowing each photographer to simply scan my band to have the photos instantly appear in the My Disney Experience app on my phone.

Walk on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Walking on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Details

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is located near Orlando at 2901 Osceola Parkway in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 32830.

The park is 30 minutes by car or charter bus from either the Orlando International Airport, the Orlando Brightline station or the Orlando Amtrak station. Parking is free for guests of Disney resort hotels (and select annual passholders); all other vehicles will pay a daily parking fee that starts at $30 per day.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re staying onsite at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you won’t need a car to get to Animal Kingdom. It’s a huge perk of booking one of the on-property Disney Resort hotels like Art of Animation, where we stayed. Transportation via bus is complimentary, with private Minnie Van transportation available via Lyft in a whimsical red and white polka-dotted “Minnie” van (for a nominal fee).

We didn’t drive at all during our trip; we took a Brightline high-speed passenger train from our home in South Florida to the station at the Orlando International Airport, then took the Mears Connect charter bus service to our Disney resort hotel (and then the reverse on the way home). I’d recommend it to anyone.

Linnea Bailey is an award-winning journalist based in South Florida. Her recent freelance work can be found in Southern Living, The Palm Beach Post, Florida Weekly, art&culture magazine, The Palm Beaches Blog and more. A former newspaper reporter, she now owns a communications company in West Palm Beach. Linnea is an active member of The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the North American Travel Journalists Association and the International Travel Writers Alliance.
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