Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom is the newest and the biggest of Disney’s Theme Parks, but it is also the easiest to navigate with a baby or toddler. If this is your first visit to Walt Disney World and you are planning on spending a few days in the parks, Animal Kingdom is a great one to start with – you’re eased into seeing how you all fare with the rides, attractions, and crowds without being overwhelmed and without the expectations that sometimes are associated with seeing Magic Kingdom for the first time. While nothing can beat that initial glimpse of Cinderella’s Castle, as the penultimate Disney experience, starting smaller and slower is an ideal way to ease yourself into your Disney Vacation. I would also say the same about Epcot, although I personally would find it difficult to spend a whole day there.
Don’t forget to download the “Mobile Magic” or “My Disney Experience” app to your smartphone for park opening hours, ride wait times, dining option availability, character greeting places and times, and more. And if you’re not from the US, don’t worry about data roaming, Walt Disney World has free WiFi at all their resorts and parks. It can be a bit spotty at times, as all free WiFi can be, but hey, it’s free – as are the Disney apps!
Animal Kingdom Basics
Don’t be alarmed by Animal Kingdom’s size – most of the over 500 acres is for all the animals’ habitats. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, meaning they have met or exceeded the standards in education, conservation, and research. The icon (and centrepiece) of the park is the Tree Of Life, it is located on Discovery Island and the park’s six remaining sections (Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia, DinoLand U.S.A., Oasis, and Camp Minnie-Mickey) all revolve around the tree.
Animal Kingdom is a little remote, but Disney’s transportation system serves the park by bus from every resort – and obviously Animal Kingdom Resort is the closest one. Stroller rentals are to the right of the main entrance and as with the other Disney Parks they are the same molded plastic ones (different colour) and rental prices are consistent – $15.00 USD per day for a single-passenger stroller and $31.00 USD per day for a double. Disney offers a reduced-rate length of stay rental ticket for a one-time payment for as many days of stroller rental you will need. When you enter a Disney park, show your receipt at the stroller rental location and you will be zipped to the front of the line. The multiple day stroller rental fee is $13.00 USD per day for a single stroller, and $27.00 USD per day for a double stroller.
Getting Around Animal Kingdom:
As with all the Disney Theme Parks, Animal Kingdom is fully accessible. And the nice thing about all the trees is it’s probably the shadiest as well. While everything is quite spread out, it is pretty easy to navigate your way from one area to the next, although your day will be simpler if you can arrange your activities and must-dos to go either clockwise or counter-clockwise around the Tree of Life. With little ones, you’ll probably be spending the most time in DinoLand U.S.A., which is fine since you’re right next to the Oasis area and the park’s main entrance. Stroller parking is strictly enforced, and for the big shows like Finding Nemo The Musical and Festival of The Lion King (a MUST see!), the stroller parking areas can get a little crowded. As with the other parks, Disney Cast Members are constantly organizing and re-organizing the stroller parking areas, so don’t panic if your wheels aren’t exactly where you left them.
Great walks for baby’s nap time are the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in the Africa area, Maharajah Jungle Trek in the Asia section, and there’s a small dinosaur walking area beside the Dinosaur ride.
Animal Kingdom Rides
Speaking of the Dinosaur ride, it’s awesome. It’s also really, really scary. It does have a height requirement of 40″, but even then if you think your child will be ok, prepare them for the dinosaurs and help cover their ears and eyes if you need to. My 7-year-old kept her eyes shut! There really are only two rides a baby or toddler can go on at Animal Kingdom – the Kilimanjaro Safaris (awesome and totally grab a Fast Pass as soon as you arrive at the park), and the TriceraTop Spin – Animal Kingdom’s version of the classic Dumbo ride at Magic Kingdom. TriceraTop Spin’s line usually moves quite quickly, and also in the DinoLand, U.S.A. area is The Boneyard – a play area with mazes and slides that yes, you can fit through as you chase your toddler! The Kali River Rapids has a height requirement of 38″ – it’s really not very scary but you might get very wet! The Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch goes back and forth to Africa – we rode it without getting off (park was not busy) for about four trips – at two-and-a-half, my son absolutely loved it!
Animal Kingdom Dining
As with all the Disney Parks, they don’t blink when you bring in your own food, which is obviously great when you’ve got a baby or toddler in tow. The Rainforest Cafe is a pretty big draw, and it has entrances both inside and outside the park, Tusker House restaurant in Africa has character meals with Donald Duck & friends for breakfast and lunch, the Yak & Yeti Restaurant in Asia has Pan-Asian cuisine, and there is plenty of quick-service dining and kiosks throughout the park.
On very busy days you may not save a table in the restaurant if you haven’t already purchased food, but we had no issue getting a table for our party of eight at Restaurantosaurus in DinoLand, U.S.A. The cast members directed us once we had our trays. There are plenty of high chairs (the larger, open wood kind), and strollers are not allowed inside most restaurants.
The kids’ meals automatically come with carrots or grapes and milk, and if you would prefer a different (read: less healthy) side or drink you must specifically request that substitution. The restaurants do not have the means to heat bottles, but that brings us to the Baby Care Center…
Animal Kingdom Baby Care Center
Animal Kingdom’s Baby Care Center is located on the way to Africa - on the left-hand side just past Pizzafari restaurant and before the bridge. The First Aid Center is located there too, as are companion restrooms. Animal Kingdom’s Baby Care Center is very spacious – probably the biggest and certainly the best equipped in terms of items for purchase but no toddler toilets! There’s a nursing room, a large changing room, a feeding room with a microwave and highchairs, as well as a decent selection of baby care items available to buy (diapers biggest size is 4). In fact, even the vending machines in the park’s restrooms sell a reasonably priced “diaper emergency kit” for sale. And though Animal Kingdom is a decidedly less-bustling theme park, a visit to the Baby Care Centre allows you all a bit of cool and quiet and a break from the heat and the people.
Tips For Animal Kingdom With A Baby Or Toddler
•Since Animal Kingdom is large, and the attractions are spread out, it is certainly possible to do a full (slower-paced) day here. Plan your must-dos and must-sees in advance, get your Fast Passes out of the way first, and take your time.
•Because Animal Kingdom is further out, leaving for a nap in the middle of the day is probably not the best use of your time. Plan for a stroller nap in one of the park’s lovely walking areas, or make it a shorter day and spend the morning or late afternoon back at the hotel by the pool. Since mornings are cooler, the animals are more active early in the day rather than later. If you’re staying on Disney property and there’s Extra Magic Hours available in the morning for Animal Kingdom – take advantage!
•The full-time character meet and greets are at Camp Minnie-Mickey and in DinoLand U.S.A. – you can quickly check the “Mobile Magic” or “My Disney Experience” apps to see who is where. Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade does the circle around Discovery Island every afternoon, and is great fun to watch.
•Take a picture of your kids in the morning of your visit, and make it clear to them (if they are old enough to understand) exactly what they are to do should they become separated from you. You can establish a meeting spot with older kids, and for little ones, finding a Cast Member who works at one of the shops or rides is the best course of action. The Cast Member will first contact Lost Children and register any information that they have, including the child’s name, age, location and a parent’s name, and then try to retrace the child’s steps and see if a meeting spot was established. Next the lost child will be taken to the Lost Children Center, which in Magic Kingdom is located next to the baby care center. Attach a tag or sticker your child’s clothing with your name and cel phone number on it, or these wristbands from Mabel’s Labels are a great solution as well.
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