Note from Mommy Frog: Beginning Feb. 17, 2022, masks will be optional for fully vaccinated guests in most indoor and outdoor locations. Those not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks in all indoor locations. All guests will still be required to wear masks on enclosed Disney transportation, including buses, monorails and the Skyliner. For the most up-to-date information, check out our guide on mask policies at the theme parks).

Jambo, frogs! Disney’s Animal Kingdom holds a special place in our froggy hearts as there’s something for everyone, plus we amphibians love seeing all of the animals. More and more experiences and restaurants continue to open around the park since reopening in summer 2020, which keeps things fresh and hoppenin’. We love seeing the Festival of the Lion King and hear the music of Chakranadi, Kora Tinga Tinga and the Tam Tam Drummers back at the streets of Harambe in Africa.

Sometime this year, Finding Nemo: The Musical will return as a reimagined show. And the special animal tours for purchase are back. There’s a ton of wild and wonderful fun to be had at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about the new character cruises, crowds and wait times. Plus we offer tips for touring Disney’s Animal Kingdom during this time. Don’t froget, we have created pre-set park plans for this time of modified experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (and all the parks). You can see them all on the go while you’re in the parks or create your own with our Orlando planning app.

Getting into Disney’s Animal Kingdom

To control capacity, keep in mind that Walt Disney World is currently using the Disney Park Pass reservation system. That means that you’ll need both valid entry and a Disney Park Pass reservation for the same park, on the same day to get in — the sooner you can purchase your tickets and secure your spot, the better! If you have park hopper allowances, you’ll only need a Park Pass reservation for the first park that you’re hopping to.

If you plan to show up to the park early, know that the parking lot usually doesn’t open until about an hour before the official park opening time. And if you’re too early, you may wait in a line before you’re allowed to park. The parking tram is not running, so keep those froggy legs in mind — not only in the morning but also at the end of the day too! (But good news — the trams are confirmed to return sometime in 2022!)

As you approach the entrance, you go through the park’s security check area, which is using brand-new technology! All you have to do is walk between the contactless detectors. They may ask you to take out certain items (such as umbrellas) before you walk through. If it is set off, you do have to step aside and undergo an additional bag check. But otherwise, you’re good to go — look ma, no hands! At the entrance’s touchpoints, you scan your MagicBand, MagicMobile pass or RFID ticket, and fingerprint scanning is back in use.

If you’re planning to park hop, Park Hopper hours generally start at 2 p.m. and run until park close. And if you’re driving to Animal Kingdom, keep in mind that the park closes earlier than the others, and bus service stops an hour after park close. So, if Animal Kingdom is your initial park and you opt to use Disney transportation to park hop and leave your car in the parking lot, you will run into some time constraints getting back. Don’t fret if this happens — Disney will not leave you stranded, but for this reason, we’d suggest driving if you plan to stay at other parks after Animal Kingdom closes.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Attractions and Wait Times

Waittimes for attractions at Animal Kingdom have generally returned to pre-COVID trends. The two Pandora attractions (Avatar: Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey) will have the longest waits, often peaking at around two hours. We recommend riding them first thing in the morning or waiting until park close. Kilimanjaro Safaris fluctuates, as can Expedition Everest and DINOSAUR.

Disney Genie+ has replaced FastPass+ as the front-of-the-line system. People with a DAS card or those taking advantage of Rider Switch will also typically use the FastPass+ (now called Lightning Lane) or Single Rider lines (which are also operational for most attractions).

The majority of the attractions are open, with the exception of Finding Nemo: The Musical, which will open in its new-and-improved format as “Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!” in 2022. The new version takes place after “Finding Dory” and has our familiar characters recount stories from the films, using many of our favorite songs from the original show!

Using Disney Genie+ at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The new, skip-the-lines Disney Genie+ service has launched at Disney World, officially replacing FastPass+. For $15 per person, per day, guests can reserve time windows and use the rebranded Lightning Lane queue to experience shorter wait times. At Animal Kingdom, these Genie+ attractions include:

  • A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King
  • It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
  • Kali River Rapids
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • The Animation Experience
  • Feathered Friends in Flight

Additionally, there are two rides that are not included with the Genie+ service. These individual Lightning Lane selections are available separately for purchase. The cost varies by day, anywhere from $7 to $15 per person. Animal Kingdom’s individual Lighting Lane selections include:

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

We’ve found that our Genie+ strategy differs by park. Animal Kingdom has the least amount of Genie+ rides, so it may not always make enough sense to get Genie+. For us, it depends on how busy the park is (are you there during a peak or off-peak season?) and the type of ticket you have. If you have base tickets and Animal Kingdom is the only park you’re visiting for the day, you’ll have more time in the park and the chances are higher that you’ll get all of your priorities done. But if you’re park hopping, you might want to get Genie+ so you can fit in as many rides as you can.

As for the individual Lightning Lane selections, we think it’s worth getting access for Avatar Flight of Passage. It’s the most popular attraction in the park, and it’s highly likely that you’ll save more time by using the Lightning Lane versus waiting in the standby line. Expedition Everest, on the other hand, may not be a necessity, unless you’re traveling during a peak season. Instead, we’d hold off until you can assess wait times for the standby line. You might be able to hop right in when it’s low! And if you’re park hopping, you could save your second individual Lightning Lane selection for a ride at a different park.

50th Anniversary Celebration at Animal Kingdom

It’s time to party as Walt Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary! Each of the parks have added extra decor, food, golden statues, and some new entertainment! While most of the major additions are featured at Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, each of the parks add their own special flair to the celebration. The Tree of Life is now a Beacon of Magic, transforming at dusk into a shimmering sight.

One of our favorite additions for the 50th anniversary is the new golden sculptures (featuring 50 total characters!) that are displayed across all four theme parks. From the “EARidescent Eight” (Mickey and friends) to Winnie the Pooh and Edna Mode, there are characters from more than 90 years of Disney movies. While most are displayed prominently, some statues can be tricky to find or may show up in an unexpected place, so keep your eyes high and low!

At Animal Kingdom you can spot Simba, Timon and Pumba from “The Lion King,” Bambi and Thumper from “Bambi” and Nemo and Dory from “Finding Nemo.” You’ll find all the characters close to the Tree of Life, so it’s easy to see all of them at once. While Animal Kingdom has the least amount of statues, we’re still happy to see our favorite wilderness friends!

A new daytime show, Disney KiteTails, premiered at Animal Kingdom for the 50th anniversary! Showing several times daily at the Discovery River Amphitheater, performers fly windcatchers and kites of all shapes and sizes, while larger three-dimensional kites, depicting Disney animal friends (including Simba, Zazu, Baloo and King Louie), soar through the sky above the water to the beat of Disney songs. There are two versions — a “Jungle Book” theme and a “Lion King” theme.

Characters and Animal Exhibits at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

It wouldn’t be Walt Disney World without your favorite characters! While traditional meet and greets are not currently hoppening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can still see Mickey and his pals on character boat cruises. (Psst … individual meet and greets are coming back to other parks, so stay tuned, as this may change!) There are four separate boat cruises with different friends on board, including a new 50th-anniversary float:

  • Discovery River Character Cruise
    • Timon and Rafiki
    • Pocahontas with John Smith or Meeko
  • Donald’s Dino Boat Bash!
    • Donald, Daisy, Launchpad McQuack
    • Goofy and Chip ‘n’ Dale
  • Mickey & Friends Flotilla
    • Mickey, Minnie and Pluto
  • Discovery Island Drummers

The boats move around the entirety of Discovery River throughout the day. While there are no precise times that you can expect them, we estimate that the boats cruise along the river about once an hour, and you can check the timeframes in the My Disney Experience app. They pass by quickly, so have your cameras ready! You know one is coming because you’ll hear the music blasting from the boat (we often heard them before we saw them). So if you hear a change of tunes, move toward the water’s edge.

Some of the best places to view the boats are from the bridges. We have two favorite viewing spots. The long boardwalk bridge that connects Pandora to the Port of Harambe gets very low and close to the water, which makes it the perfect place to see the characters.

The other spot is the bridge between Expedition Everest and the Finding Nemo: The Musical theater. This seems to be the starting and ending point for the boats. We would sometimes see one boat going out to begin its trip around Discovery Island, while another was returning from its voyage and they’d cross paths. It’s a bit harder to see them because the bridge is higher up, but you can see them for a longer period of time as they come down the river at its longest point.

During a repeat visit, we got breakfast near Flame Tree Barbecue, and the outdoor patio ended up being a hidden gem to watch the character boats. We were the only ones there, so it felt like a private viewing area just for us. (But during peak dining times, there will be more people around.)

If you see one boat, we’d suggest waiting in the area before you move along, especially if character experiences are super important to you. The boats usually follow right after each other (we’ve seen four within 10 minutes!). Characters usually appear in pairs or as a trio — and sometimes the lineup switches up. For instance, earlier in the morning we saw only Donald and Daisy, but later in the afternoon, Launchpad joined the duo.

Recently, we have seen even more characters pop up around the park in a distanced setting. A recent addition is Kevin, the colorful exotic bird as seen in “Up”. You can see Kevin the majority of the day in Discovery Island at the entrance to DinoLand U.S.A.. We’ve also spotted Pluto up on the bridge near The Boneyard as you enter DinoLand U.S.A. So you never know who you’ll see!

The exploration trails are open, so you’re able to say “hi” to some real-life animals too! The indoor animal exhibits, Affection Section and Animation Experience at Rafiki’s Planet Watch are open and available.

Special animal tours have recently returned and are available for purchase. The Caring for Giants is a 60-minute tour learning more about the elephants of the reserve. Up Close with Rhinos is a 60-minute tour all about the white rhinos at Animal Kingdom. The Wild Africa Trek is a three-hour safari adventure where you can cross an elevated bridge on the safari and get up-close views of a variety of animals. And enjoy a sampling of African-inspired cuisine with a stunning location on the reserve with Savor the Savanna.

Restaurants and Retail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, several restaurants encourage guests to use mobile ordering in the My Disney Experience app. Satu’li Canteen, Flame Tree Barbecue, Restaurantosaurus and Harambe Market have used mobile ordering exclusively (the only exception is if you don’t have a smartphone). Sometimes locations may offer one in-person register, but most highly recommend or still require mobile ordering. Cast members stand outside and let you in when your food is ready. We have an entire separate post about how to order food through the app, but overall, it is simple to do. You can order food from anywhere in the park at any time during park hours. When you’re ready to eat, you can hit “I’m Here, Prepare My Order.”

In the app, you’ll choose your arrival window. Know that if you order during a busy period, it may take a while, even after you hit the “Prepare My Order” button. However, for us, it hasn’t taken more than 15 minutes, so we suggest you don’t stray too far away from where you’re getting food from (and be sure to turn on the app’s notifications!), or order during an off-peak dining time for less of a wait.

For table-service restaurants, you can now make Advance Dining Reservations through the My Disney Experience website or app up to 60 days in advance. While seating capacity is limited, we walked by Tiffins Restaurant during a non-peak dining time, and they were accepting walk-ins. We’d say it wouldn’t hurt to check if a restaurant has availability, but don’t expect an open spot especially during the lunch or dinner rush. You can also now see Walk-Up availability in My Disney Experience. While dining experiences were more limited when things reopened, more and more dining options are opening up in the park, including Harambe Market (which has currently limited to lunch) and Tusker House Restaurant.

Touring Advice for Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Everyone hops over to Avatar Flight of Passage first. If you’re inside the park early enough and can get in line before it gets too long, including during Early Theme Park Entry if you’re Disney hotel guests, then we suggest taking advantage of being one of the first to ride it. However, if the line is already long when you enter the park, use that time to ride Expedition Everest, DINOSAUR and Kali River Rapids before the crowds spread out later in the day. Eventually, the Flight of Passage line usually decreases slightly later in the afternoon. We noticed that Kilimanjaro Safaris had higher wait times earlier in the morning, but lowered drastically in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Kali River Rapids, DINOSAUR and Expedition Everest become busy midday once people leave Pandora. Check out our step-by-step park plans for Walt Disney World for even more touring advice.

Additional Disney’s Animal Kingdom Tips and Tidbits

  • We highly recommend earning badges as go throughout your day with the Wilderness Explorers activity.
  • Remember to slow down the pace for a bit and really take in the incredible animals. Also be sure to ask the cast members questions on the safari and trails as they are very informative.

Overall, we had a roarin’ good time and hope this helps if you’re planning to hop back to Animal Kingdom soon. What other questions do you have about visiting Animal Kingdom? Ask away in the comments below!

Related: What is Disney World Like Right Now? Here’s What to Expect if You Visit

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!

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