Animal Kingdom may be the youngest park at the Walt Disney Resort in Florida, but its rides evoke nostalgic feelings of historic expeditions, thanks to its countless, brilliant Imagineers and Designers. (Looking at you, Joe Rohde.)
But what does it look like to visit Animal Kingdom in 2021, 23 years after its opening day – and during a global pandemic?
At the heart of Animal Kingdom stands a stunning work of craftsmanship and design – the Tree of Life. The closer you walk to the magnificent icon (also known as a “weenie” in Disney ride designer speak, a focal point of a theme park), you’ll notice countless animals carved throughout its looming trunks.
But don’t mistake this arbor for a simple tree; underneath the massive structure, you’ll find an adorable show called “It’s Tough to be a Bug,” based on characters from the 1998 animated film, A Bug’s Life.
Funnily enough, this attraction actually opened before the film premiered in ’98. For me, it still stands up – musical theater puns and silly antics, included.
“Hello, there!” If you’re like me, you may have grown up visiting the Walt Disney Resort. And for this animal-loving child of the ‘90s, I could not get enough of this park. The first thrill ride I ever tackled was Dinosaur – back when it was known as “Countdown to Extinction.”
For me, Dinosaur is always my first stop after rope-drop (AKA: entering the park gates as the resort opens) in Animal Kingdom. Once you enter the park, take a right and keep following the pathway to Dinoland, U.S.A. until you reach Dinosaur.
With quick turns, thrilling speeds, and a nostalgic pre-show harkening back to the early 2000s, Dinosaur remains my favorite ride at Animal Kingdom. Plus, first thing in the morning? You can usually get through this line in five to ten minutes. Check this ride off before the lines hike up to 60 minutes later in the day.
After time-traveling back to the late Cretaceous period, I continued my trek to the continent of Asia, jumping in the Single Rider Line for Expedition Everest, the towering roller coaster built into a replica of a Himalayan mountain.
In my opinion, this is a great starter thrill coaster for those who have already mastered the likes of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train in Magic Kingdom but may not be quite ready for Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios.
As a roller coaster enthusiast myself, I can usually ride this attraction three to four times in a row before getting too terribly dizzy. If you’re feeling brave, Expedition Everest should be a must-do attraction for you at Animal Kingdom.
One way that the Disney Parks have made their resort safer during the pandemic is through the implementation of pin trading utilizing boards scattered throughout the parks.
The cast members at various merchandise locations present a slew of tradable pins on boards, cleaning the pins before and after trading. In the Pandora area of Animal Kingdom, I traded a Pirates of the Caribbean pin from my own collection to take home this Aristocats-inspired ice cream pin.
Since the Park's first shutdown at the start of the pandemic in 2020, Fastpass+ was temporarily suspended. But in August of this year, the Disney Company announced new programs called Disney’s Genie and the Lightning Lane.
The Lightning Lane is the Parks’ reimagined Fastpass+ system, with quite a few changes sprinkled in (like pay-to-play options for specific rides). Though still awaiting both services to fully roll out at the Florida Resort, some patrons have already reported the Fastpass+ signs (seen here) have been replaced in many locations.
When visiting Animal Kingdom, do keep in mind that attraction waits are notably high during these unprecedented times. For me, I waited 220 minutes to ride Avatar’s Flight of Passage.
Without multiple live shows running in the park right now and without any form of Fastpass+ or Lightning Lane open, this wait time didn’t budge much throughout the day. Luckily, ample cast members marked the long pathways of socially distanced lines to keep us park patrons entertained and excited, despite the long waits.
If you’ve never ridden on the titular attraction for Pandora, I’ve got to admit – Flight of Passage is worth waiting for over two hours. For me, after waiting that long for a ride, I had to reward myself with a treat back over in Asia by Expedition Everest, the Yeti Sundae.
After a full day at Animal Kingdom, I finished the trip with a ride among the animals on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. There’s nothing quite as special for me as sitting down on tired, theme park-laden feet and spending 15 minutes riding in “Simba 1.”
And if you’re considering visiting the Walt Disney World Resort this season, you won’t want to miss all of the adventurous experiences this park has to offer.
Join our community to network with other travelers around the world and to gain access to exclusive content and events. Submit your travel stories for a chance to get published!