My family just returned from our sixth trip to Disney World (yes, we have a problem), and although we are old pros, the imagineers always seem to concoct some new Disney magic in the parks to enjoy each trip. This year, they’re kicking off summer with new nighttime happenings at Animal Kingdom. To me, AK is supremely underrated. It’s so beautifully detailed, the rides are awesome and it has arguably the best show in all of Disney World. I think part of its lack of popularity was that it used to close at the late hour of 6PM. Lame!
Now, you can party with the wildlife until 11PM, so as soon as we arrived in the Orlando humidity, we bee-lined it to Animal Kingdom to take in the longer hours and new offerings. There are definitely some hits and misses, so I wanted to share my experience and tips, in case you’re heading to the park in the future.
When to arrive
We arrived at the park right around 3:30PM, and I’d recommend this timing, so you have plenty of hours to take in all of the attractions and not be rushed. We didn’t do EVERYTHING at the park, but we accomplished the highlights while still managing to be spontaneous, take ice cream breaks, and take plenty of photos (aka, I take hundreds of photos while my family patiently waits for me like the saints they are). The park was more spread out than I remembered, so it will take you longer to travel from each attraction than you might think.
Do the Lion King First
Remember when I mentioned that AK has the best show in all of Walt Disney World? Well, perfect your “Hakuna Matata,” and get ready to take in the glory that is Festival of the Lion King. This show was phenomenal and is essentially Lion King meets Broadway and Cirque du Soleil. Did I mention it is also air conditioned? Head here in the heat of the afternoon, so you avoid the suffocating humidity as much as possible. We didn’t need a Fast Pass for this and arrived right before the show started.
In the same vein, you’ll also want to ride Dinosaur in the late afternoon before dusk. If you can handle the animatronic dino scares of course. The line is all indoors (and narrated by Bill Nye!), so it’s another easy way to escape the heat. This line also only took us about 20 minutes, even though it was advertised as 40, so don’t waste a Fast Pass.
I was never a huge dino nerd growing up, but I’m a fan of Dino Land. Closest to Jurassic Park I’ll get.
Eat Dinner Early
Right around 5PM we meandered into Yak and Yeti without a reservation for some fuel and another AC break. This move was genius because we only waited 10 minutes. When we exited about an hour later, the place was packed and you easily could have waited 1 hour for a table. The food is decent, but more important, it’s one of the few restaurants in AK that’s indoors and air conditioned.
Stop for an epic sunset shot of Tree of Life.
Book the Safari for Dusk
One of the new offerings for summer is nighttime rides on one of my favorite attractions, Kilimanjaro Safaris. We booked our safari getaway Fast Pass for 7:30, and the dusk setting was perfect! Golden lighting lit up the savannah, and herds of animals including rhino, lion and zebra were roaming – the most I think we’ve ever seen on this ride. Riding it after nightfall may be too dark to see animals, so definitely go for a sunset Fast Pass if you’re able to snag one.
Book These Fast Passes
Speaking of Fast Pass, my picks are Everest, Kali River Rapids and Kilimanjaro Safaris. We didn’t do Rapids, and instead opted for the Jungle Book show, which I’ll touch on below, but the wait for Rapids was insane, so we unfortunately skipped out on the opportunity to cool off. Our trip was during one of the busiest weeks of the year, the first week of summer, yet these three attractions were the only ones with exorbitant wait times. Make them your Fast Passes for sure.
Everest may barely beat out Space Mountain as my favorite coaster in all of WDW.
Take in the details!
This park is so gorgeous, and you could easily spend a whole afternoon taking in all of its details. Grab a Mickey bar, wander Harambe market and watch all of the street performers – we even saw a guy playing electric harp! You won’t regret basking in the Disney magic.
Skip the Jungle Book Show
To cap off the night, we used our last Fast Pass on a new nighttime show – The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic. This show was a last minute replacement, however, for the extravaganza, Rivers of Light. Rivers of Light is supposed to be a spectacular with lasers, performers, and water projections on par with Illuminations at Epcot and World of Color at Disneyland. Unfortunately for us, there were technical difficulties during previews for ROL, so the show has been delayed until autumn. The Jungle Book Show was fine, but you could tell it had been hastily thrown together and it honestly was kind of lame compared to the level of quality I’ve come to expect from Disney. Save your Fast Pass and Dining Package reservations and wait for Rivers of Light.
Don’t exit the park too quickly….
Because you may miss the Tree of Life awakenings. On your way out of the park, join the crowd in front of the tree and wait for the show to begin. Each showing lasts a few minutes and is complete with music and light projections. I’m not doing the performance justice, as it was a truly lovely way to end the evening and almost made up for the Jungle Book hot mess.
Enjoy your next trip to the park and learn all the details about the nighttime offerings here.