Our 1-Day Planned Disney’s Animal Kingdom Itinerary for Families And How It Worked For Us

My family of four (including a very tall 8-year-old and 3-year-old) spent our spring break in Walt Disney World (“WDW”) and planned to hit up every major (and minor) ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in one day. Below is my family’s itinerary: the good, the bad, and what I would have done differently.

Some things to note

My family traveled to WDW during spring break. While there are certainly busier times to visit the parks, it was pretty crowded during our visit. We made use of Genie+ as well as individual lightning lanes. We also stayed on property, thanks to our DVC membership, which allowed us early access to each park we visited. That early access, along with traveling with a pre-school aged child typically meant that naps were a necessity for us. However, since Animal Kingdom was the farthest park from our hotel, and the park that closed the earliest, this was the one time where we did not take a break in the middle of the day. Instead, we went strong on our itinerary all day, and then left in the afternoon once our youngest got tired.

Rope dropping Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Note that for the below plans, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened to the public at 8 AM on the day we were visiting.

Animal Kingdom in the Morning

6:30 AM: I forgot that the WDW app had an option to see the bus schedules for my hotel. Estimating that the bus would leave close to 6:30 AM, we headed for the lobby to ask the front desk when the bus would leave. We then walked to the bus stop to await the 6:50 AM departure time we were given. (This turned out to mirror the time listed on the app.) However, it was a good thing we were early as the bus left before 6:45 AM.

6:55 AM: The bus dropped us off at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and we walked to the front gate.

7:00 AM: Talk about stressful. Hundreds of alarms went off signaling that it was time to book both individual and regular lightning lanes for hotel guests. I guess if you are the type of person to rope drop a Disney park, you are also the type of person to set a 7 AM alarm to book your lightning lane rides. (These are my people.) We were able to get a lightning lane reservation for Kilimanjaro Safari with a return time of 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM.

7:20 AM: We were let into the park and “brisk walked” (no running) to the entrance of Pandora to await rope drop.

Prep Work: The First Booking(s) of the Day at Animal Kingdom

Genie + can be purchased as early as 12 AM on the day you want to you use it. Bookings for Genie+ go online at 7 AM. My recommendation is to purchase a Genie+ as soon as you wake up (assuming that is before 7 AM). Disney resort guests can also purchase individual lightning lane (“ILL”) (the rides that cost extra to book a lightning lane) as early as 7 AM.

LL Selection 1: Book Kilimanjaro Safaris

I figured I would save money by rope dropping the Pandora rides instead of paying to ride them later. However, if I were to do it again, I would also purchased an ILL for Avatar Flight of Passage in addition to rope dropping it. Yes, the ride was that good.

Early Access (7:30 AM – 8:00 AM) and the First Hour (8:00 AM – 9:00 AM)

Pandora – The World of Avatar

Ride 1: By 7:30 AM we were in line for Avatar Flight of Passage and signed up for rider swap soon after that. For anyone that has used rider swap in Disneyland and wasn’t a fan (because… same), give it a try at WDW. At Disneyland, the process was slow and such a hassle that we tried not to bother with it. But at WDW, the entire process took less that 1 minute. They scanned my husband’s magic bands and my daughter’s magic band and then my husband and my (too short for the ride) son got out of the Avatar line in order to shop and ride Na’vi River Journey, while my daughter and I made our way through the Avatar line.

Ride 2: My daughter and I met up with my husband and son in the Avatar gift shop. We swapped kids and my daughter was off for her second time on Avatar Flight of Passage, while I took my son on his second time on Na’vi River Journey.

Food Break 1: Our family met up at Pongu Pongu for some delicious snacks. I normally would not recommend stopping for snacks this early into a park opening, but it took a little time to coordinate meeting up after rider swap. Plus, I really wanted to try a pineapple cream cheese egg roll (a.k.a the Pongu lumpia).

Trek 1: We took the pathway from Pandora up to Africa. If you can find a reason to walk this way, do it. The pathway was beautiful! There were barely any other people on the pathway with us, causing us to feel like we not in a Disney theme park.

Animal Kingdom: Pandora to Africa

The Second Hour (9:00 AM – 10:00 AM)


LL selection 2: As soon as we tapped into our Lightning Lane at Kilimanjaro Safari, I booked 4 lightnings lanes at Everest Expedition, even though my son did not make the height requirement for Everest. While Disney’s Animal Kingdom had taught me not to dislike the child swap process, it still involved having the entire family present at the ride at the same time. By booking all 4 lightning lanes at once, I kicked off the 120-rule timer for all 4 of us. Then I kept modifying 2 of the LL return times until later in the day. The plan was for my daughter and I to finish riding Everest after using the first two LLs right before the second two LL return times started.

Ride 3: We rode Kilimanjaro Safari. It was lovely, until our driver / castmember ruined my day’s itinerary by explaining that people could pet adorable goats by going up to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. That was definitely NOT in the itinerary. And while my kids seem to rarely be able to hear me when I speak, they latched on to what the castmember said, begging for a complete change to the itinerary so that they could go pet some goats. Sigh.

Goats on a roof at Animal Kingdom's Safari

DinoLand U.S.A.

Ride 4: Skipping over Asia we walked over to Dinoland U.S.A. where the Dinosaur ride was still a walk on at this time. I had heard that this ride would be a walk-on for a good portion of the morning. I also heard that despite the low height requirement, it was a ride that terrified kids. Ever the over planner, I found videos on You Tube that guests had filmed and posted of the Dinosaur ride and showed it to my kids. They both agreed they wanted to ride it multiple times. Turns out, they most certainly did not.

The Third Hour (10:00 AM – 11:00 AM)


Ride 5: After the lukewarm reception by the kids to Dinosaur, my daughter and I left the boys behind at the Dino play area to ride Triceratops Spin while we enjoyed Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (with LL access). My daughter hated it. So much that she refused to ride it again with my husband using my son’s lightning lane pass.

I don’t know if anyone else watches Sister Wives (a reality show on TLC about polygamy). But there is a now famous segment from season 17 where the husband (Kody Brown) bemoans the fact that his time has been “wasted!” That’s how I felt every time we didn’t use a rider swap option to the best of our ability. Because chances are we will not have it again, as my son will mostly likely be tall enough to ride everything the next time we are back at the parks. But I digress….

Ride 6: My husband used his staggered LL access to ride Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain while I took both kids on Trek 2: the Maharajah Jungle Trek.

LL selection 3: Once my husband tapped into Expedition Everest we booked a LL access to Na’vi River Journey. It would be my daughter’s first time on the ride. And my son’s third time. Our return time was at 5:30 PM.

Lunch Break (11:00 AM – 1:00 PM)

Pre-ordering Food: Once we all regrouped on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, we mobile ordered our lunch from Satu’li Canteen. This turned out to be perfect as it was pretty crowded when we got there so this cut our wait time down by a good amount. Since Asia is also far away from Pandora, mobile ordering while still in Asia and then walking over to Pandora covered most of the waiting period.

Pandora – The World of Avatar

Food Break 2: I had been so excited to eat here. And it was a pretty delicious place for lunch. But I think it would have been much better if three of our orders had been the Ocean Moon Bowl. My husband and I looked forlorn as my daughter gobbled up the dish solo. If the line wasn’t so long, we might have each ordered our own Ocean Moon bowl.

Discovery Island

Experience 1: A little less than an hour after we ordered our food we were off to Discovery Island to watch It’s Tough To Be a Bug.

Food Break 3: I realize we had just had lunch, but we were in the vicinity of Eight Spoon Cafe, home of the donut sandwich and we just couldn’t resist. My review? Resist. It wasn’t that good.

Experience 2: I had a hard time figuring out what to classify this next activity as. What to do you classify stalking a humongous bird that is uninterested in stopping long for a picture? My daughter tried to take a picture with “Kevin”… and was eventually successful.


LL selection 4: Our 120-minute time was up and we were allowed to book another lightning lane. I don’t know that it was necessary to use Genie + for the 1 PM showing of Finding Nemo: The Big Blue and Beyond. Everyone that wanted to see the show, was able to. However, LL did give us preferred seating. Since the show took place only ~20 minutes after we booked the LL, we didn’t miss out too much on other LL opportunities.

The Final Park Push (1:00 PM – 3:30 PM)

DinoLand U.S.A.

Experience 3: As soon as we booked our lightning lane for Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond, we headed to Dinoland U.S.A. Okay, truth time. While the actors were amazing, the best part about this show was the airconditioned theater. Forty-five blissful minutes (15 minute preshow wait time and 30 minute show) of cool air is a must. Definitely try to do the shows at the hottest part of the day.

Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Ride 7 / Experience 4: My original plans were to return to Africa to watch Festival of the Lion King and walk the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. However, I was overruled by the tiny humans and my husband. Democracy is overrated. So instead, up to Rafiki’s Planet Watch we went on a rustic train, to pet some goats.

Animal Kingdom: Rafiki Watch

LL selection 5: At this point, the entire family was exhausted and wilting. The kids wanted to get wet and the adults were ready to head back to the hotel. So I booked LL passes for Kali River Rapids. This ride didn’t have more than a 1 minute wait all morning. But as the sun crept up in the sky, so did the line for Kali River Rapids.


Ride 8: Our family returned back to the main park and rode Kali River Rapids. Or three of us did. My husband opted to forgo getting wet and went to find a snack instead. One thing I had never experienced before was the lap bar seats. My son was tall enough to ride, but not tall enough to ride in a regular seat, so we waited until a “raft” with a lap bar seat was available. (At max this added maybe 2 minutes to our wait time.)

Uncomfortably wet, we started heading for the exit to catch a WDW bus back to our hotel. Yes, that’s right, after waiting out the 120-minute rule due to Na’vi River Journey, we didn’t even use our LL passes for it. Sigh… hopefully you can learn from me and not make the same mistake! Be sure you really want to stick around for your LL ride before waiting 2 hours to use Genie + again.

We were back at the Polynesian Resort by 4 PM. Our preschooler took a quick nap and then we were off to eat dinner on property before calling it a night.

Animal Kingdom Lamps

If you liked this post, maybe you would like these posts from Hawaii Girl Travels:

Our 1-Day Planned EPCOT Itinerary For Families And How It Worked For Us

How to ride Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland: An opening weekend story

Universal Studios Hollywood: Itinerary for 2 adults, 1 child rider, and 1 child too short to ride most rides