Disney's Animal Kingdom Attractions for Toddlers, Pre-Schoolers & Teens
By Chelle Koster Walton
An outing at Animal Kingdom with your toddler, pre-schooler and kids of all ages.
Kids of all ages love animals -- and Animal Kingdom arranges all sorts of ways to engage them, from a petting zoo to environmental education exhibits.
There are plenty of things to do with family at Walt Disney World. First, stop first at Camp Minnie-Mickey, where all of the cartoon characters hang out and "Festival of the Lion King Show," a short and endearing show with live animals, takes place. Don't miss "Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade" at Discovery Island. You can find live animals throughout the park and staffers carry critters in cages to introduce to guests in select areas.
Many of the nature trails may prove too much for small legs and attention spans, but the train ride to "Rafiki's Planet Watch" is fun and ends at the petting zoo.
There is often a line for "Kilimanjaro Safaris," but the Animal Kingdom attraction is worth the wait, especially for older pre-schoolers, toddlers, and grade-schoolers.
For mealtime fun, the popular Rainforest Café makes you feel as though you're dining in a jungle, underneath a volcano, with animated animals peeking from the tree canopy. For something quicker, hit Restaurantosaurus in Dinoland U.S.A. At breakfast time, check out Donald's Safari Breakfast, featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck and Goofy at Tusker House.
Discovery Zones throughout the park are designed for ages 4 to 8. Each zone lets kids experience life from the perspective of an animal and has them looking for fossils, animal clues and other objects as they earn special stamps in their field guide.
School-aged children are ripe for "It's Tough to Be a Bug!," one of the park's top attractions. Loosely based on the Disney-Pixar animated movie A Bug's Life, it can get a bit creepy for teeny ones. Its theater is inside the 14-story Tree of Life, Animal Kingdom's impressive centerpiece.
Older kids will also love the loud, dark and frightening "DINOSAUR" (height requirement is 40 inches tall) which involves an introduction by Bill Nye the Science Guy adding education to the pure adrenaline rush.
"Kali River Rapids" (38-inch height requirement) is another thrill ride, wet and with environmental twists. Kids this age will most value some of the more extravagant shows such as "Finding Nemo" and "Festival of the Lion King," as well as "Flights of Wonder," a live bird presentation.
Terrific for 'Tweens, Teens and Upward
Older kids and adults will love the thrill rides "Kilimanjaro Safaris" and "It's Tough to Be a Bug!" every bit as much as their younger counterparts. This age group is more likely to appreciate the true environmental and biological aspects of the park, such as "Pangani Forest Exploration Trail" and gorilla sanctuary, "Maharajah Jungle Trek" and "Conservation Station." The Maharajah offers some unusual animal sightings - tigers, giant fruit bats, tapirs and komodo dragons.
For the thrill lover in your family, Expedition Everest in the Asia area of the theme park is a high-altitude, high-speed roller coaster train ride for big kids, teens and adults to the "Roof of the World," home of the inhospitable snarling beast, the Yeti, at the mountain's peak.
If you're into nature, walk the trails and ride Kilimanjaro Safari early, when the animals are more mobile. For young children, this strategy can have an adverse affect, however: They get the notion that this park, like most others, is all about rides and once they're finished with those, they are too hyped up to enjoy a nature experience.
Although priced separately from regular park admission, animal lovers will love "Wild Africa Trek," a special tour experience where guests are led on a three-hour safari adventure through parts of the park that aren't experienced in other Animal Kingdom attractions.
The shopping and dining is on par with Epcot, although not as extensive. Some of the best of both is in Africa, where you can buy woven baskets, enjoy African fare or quaff a tropical cocktail. There is also a full-service restaurant in the park, Yak & Yeti, which serves Asian cuisine. Most of Animal Kingdom's restaurants serve fast food.
Every afternoon, Mickey and friends lead a safari convoy in a festive parade through the park. Giant drums, disguised as colorful exotic animals, pound out a parade rhythm sure to appeal to park-goers of all ages.
Because it has only a few traditional Disney rides and attractions (seven rides and three shows, including "Finding Nemo – The Musical"), ride lines tend to be long at Animal Kingdom, but FASTPASS, the ride reservations system, comes to the rescue at "It's Tough To Be a Bug!," "DINOSAUR," "Kali River Rapids" and "Kilimanjaro Safari."