I’ll admit that I didn’t give Disney’s Animal Kingdom enough credit during its early years. My brain expected more rides in the vein of other theme parks. Instead, this place thrives in a complete different way. There are thrilling headliners and cool dark rides, but that’s only part of the equation. What separates this park from others is what exists beyond the expected attractions. The beautiful environments make the Animal Kingdom my favorite hang-out park.

This exercise is all about ranking attractions, however. That means we’re focusing on my favorite and least favorite offerings at the Animal Kingdom. I am including the walking trails, which deserve more attention when assessing this park. Disney’s website lists specific animals along with the rides and shows, and I’m not going that far afield. The result is 16 entries that include an immersive coaster and safari, boat rides, epic live entertainment, and a few trips to Pandora. Let’s dive into my rankings!

16. TriceraTop Spin

In a park with limited rides, I appreciate having a slow-moving spinner that nearly anyone can enjoy. If you appreciate the purposefully tacky theming of Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, you’d likely find this as a cute nod to vintage roadside attractions. On the other hand, the off-the-shelf Zamperla Telecombat model is similar to what you see at many parks. Other Walt Disney World spinners like Dumbo and the Astro Orbiter also have much better views. My hope is that when this area is re-themed, the TriceraTop Spin will get a new style and provide a cooler look at the park.

15. Feathered Friends in Flight

I’m most familiar with Flights of Wonder, the original bird show located in Asia. It always seemed a bit hokey to have the audience member participate who was obviously a planted cast member. While Feathered Friends in Flight represents a big improvement over UP! A Great Bird Adventure, it’s still not a must-see for me. It does provide some interesting education on free-flying birds and their behavior.

14. The Boneyard

I appreciate a good themed playground, and a dinosaur dig feels like the perfect subject for it. The Boneyard offers cool touches and goes well beyond the typical slides and climbing spots of many parks. I’ve always found it to be a little claustrophobic and uncomfortable, particularly on a warm day. We’re miles ahead of the decor in Dino-rama, and I appreciate the detail that went into this space. Especially as my kids grow older, there’s just not enough here to warrant a visit here on most trips.

13. Kali River Rapids

It’s easy to look at Kali River Rapids and just think about the possibilities of a boat ride in Asia near the tigers and other animals there. The Tiger Rapids Run ideas were ambitious and would have been an E-ticket on par with Disney’s top attractions. Instead, this Intamin river rapids ride doesn’t feel that different from what we find in many regional parks. What lifts Kali River Rapids is its natural setting, especially in the attractive queue. It’s also hard to go wrong with getting drenched on a hot day in Florida. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this boat ride; it just had potential to be something great.

12. It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

When the Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, it featured a 4D theater attraction tied to a movie that hadn’t been released. Despite not having seen A Bug’s Life, I still enjoyed It’s Tough to Be a Bug! quite a bit on our first visit early that summer. The mix of 3D with animatronics and physical effects succeeds and leads to a zippy nine-minute show. No matter how many times I go, the surprise of the bee sting in the back gets me every time. I also enjoy the placement of the theater beneath the Tree of Life. Finally, the theme song includes a lot of clever jokes by Kevin Rafferty over the whimsical tune from George Wilkins.

11. Wildlife Express Train and Conservation Station

I love the idea of boarding a train and taking a journey into the back of the Animal Kingdom. It separates the Rafiki’s Planet Watch area from the crowds in Harambe. The ride also gives us interesting views of the animal care facilities. Conservation Station also provides a wide range of activities including the chance to get a close look at veterinarians treating animals. The only downside is how much effort it takes to reach our destination. The additional walk after disembarking the train can seem pretty far on a hot day. I still enjoy this attraction and hope it remains in the park.

10. Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond!

We have reached the live entertainment portion of this list with the Animal Kingdom’s two big shows. The original version of Finding Nemo: The Musical debuted in January 2007 and was surprisingly long at 40 minutes. Songs like “In the Big Blue World” and “Go with the Flow” made for a lively presentation that went well beyond what we expected. Following the closures of the pandemic, I was glad to see a return with a new version with Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond!. The Marine Life Institute from Finding Dory is involved now in this shorter 25-minute attraction.

9. Festival of the Lion King

Here’s another live show that has evolved considerably since its original version in Camp Minnie-Mickey. Its popularity led to a permanent indoor theater, and it moved to Harambe in 2014 to make room for Pandora. After a simplified version played last year, we’re back with a new but more typical iteration. The highlights are memorable tunes from The Lion King film, which play along with acrobatic live performers. I’ve never loved the audience participation sections of this show, but it still delivers a lot of fun moments. It’s awesome to see the Festival of the Lion King going strong nearly 25 years after it opened.

8. Wilderness Explorers

One of the best ways to see the Animal Kingdom is through the Wilderness Explorers activities throughout the park. Acquiring all the badges with my girls slowed us down and helped me explore the all the cool details. The fun interactions with cast members also made a difference in teaching about the wildlife. Wilderness Explorers is a lot more than a typical scavenger hunt and fits perfectly in this park. It also provides a great souvenir book that’s complementary and well-designed. Don’t sleep on this!

7. Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail

One benefit of touring with a stroller was moving at a slower pace, especially on walking trails. I often found myself standing still and just looking around at the awesome setting. The Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail includes gorilla, zebra, and hippo habitats that go beyond what you expect. I love the way that the winding paths keep each turn surprising; you’re never sure what’s coming next. This creates a sense of exploration at every stop. The close view of the hippos is a surprising highlight.

6. Maharajah Jungle Trek

Even more impressive than the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, its counterpart in Asia contains excellent sets and place making. The environment feels like an ancient place that has stood for centuries. The waterfalls and bridges of the Anandapur Royal Forest set the mood to see a wild range of wildlife. The big draw is definitely the tigers, who appear in a massive habitat with multiple viewing spots. You can also catch gibbons, numerous bird species, and a large Komodo dragon within the Majarajah Jungle Trek.

5. DINOSAUR

Originally known as Countdown to Extinction, this EMV dark ride is showing its age. The effects aren’t as sharp as I remember, but DINOSAUR still packs a punch on the right day. Dr. Seeker (Wallace Langham) insists there’s nothing to worry about from that asteroid, but he ultimately concedes that “you’re not gonna make it!” when chaos erupts. I love the cheesy aspects of DINOSAUR, including the Time Tunnel and everything from Dr. Seeker. I wish that Disney could find a way to make everything work like it should. With a few updates, DINOSAUR could be an even stronger attraction.

4. Na’vi River Journey

If there’s any placement on this list that will draw some heat, this is the choice. I’ll admit that I considered placing Na’vi River Journey in front of its Pandora counterpart Flight of Passage. My only complaint about this slow-moving boat ride is that it goes by too quickly. The screens merge perfectly with sets and music to immerse us in Pandora. The Shaman of Songs animatronic is a highlight, but I’m on board for all of it! If the Animal Kingdom had a few more rides and Na’vi River Journey had shorter waits, the overall reaction would be stronger. It’s a beautiful and relaxing experience that I never get tired of on repeat visits.

3. Avatar Flight of Passage

I was skeptical that Flight of Passage could live up to expectations given its massive popularity from the start. It seemed like a more intense version of Soarin’ with updated technology. Boy was I wrong. The opening reveal is one of the most jaw-dropping moments in any Disney attraction. Each step of our experience in the pre-shows sets the stage for the experience of flying over Pandora. The collaboration between James Cameron, Imagineers led by Joe Rohde, and Weta Digital has created an attraction that goes well beyond the original films. It’s a brilliant way to experience this fictional world in epic fashion.

2. Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

This is such a classic Disney roller coaster! The massive scale clarifies up front that we’re in store for a memorable experience. The small details in the queue set up the yeti and Forbidden Mountain so well. It’s a subtle way to give info without over doing the back story. The ride itself provides multiple surprises, including a backwards portion that always messes a little with my stomach. I do wish that Disney would fix the yeti, which would place Expedition Everest into the top tier of Walt Disney World attractions. Even so, there’s still so much to like here including the best drop of any Disney roller coaster. Don’t miss it!

1. Kilimanjaro Safaris

There’s nothing like Kilimanjaro Safaris at any Disney theme park. Its epic size and complex logistics amaze me every time I ride as it all comes together well. This is both a theme park attraction and a collection of wildlife habitats. After talking with Rick Barongi recently on the podcast, I’m even more interested in what goes into the other side of the safari. Your experience can vary considerably on each ride, but that’s part of the fun on Kilimanjaro Safaris. There’s no comparison to any other Disney attraction because of what’s involved to bring it to life every day.

What did you think of my rankings? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

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