Although all of the Walt Disney World theme parks feel extra special to me when the sun goes down, there is something about visiting Animal Kingdom at night that is always so exciting. I think perhaps it’s because, for so long, the park was only open until 5pm and there was no opportunity to visit after dark, or maybe it’s because the park isn’t as brightly lit as the other parks at night, making it feel a bit more adventurous. Either way, one of my favorite things to do is visit Animal Kingdom after dark to explore the rides, shows, and other attractions all beautifully lit up for the night. Here’s my guide for what to do when exploring Animal Kingdom at night.
Animal Kingdom at night
Disney’s Animal Kingdom after dark is definitely my favorite nighttime park, but I would suggest getting there before the sun goes down to really take advantage of the spectacular views. Since the park can feel so hot during the day, especially in the summer, this is a great park to hit for rope drop (and to make sure you get a ride on Flight of Passage in Pandora: The World of Avatar!) then take a midday break, and return a couple of hours before sunset. Temperatures will have dropped by then, making exploring the park more comfortable, and there are some great places to grab a bite to eat. Tusker House is widely hailed as one of the best character dining experiences on property, both for the character interaction and the the food itself, or Tiffins would be a good option for a more elegant culinary adventure. If you don’t want a sit down meal, there are other options too. Flame Tree BBQ makes the list of one of my most underrated Disney dining experiences, the Satu’li Canteen in Pandora has delicious healthy options, and there are a wide variety of quick service and snack options outside of your usual burgers and pizza, including mac and cheese with pulled pork, and seasoned fries with tzatziki and sriracha mayo. Whatever you choose, you can enjoy your meal as you watch the sun go down and the park come to life around you.
Night time safari
While Kilamanjaro Safari is one of my favorite rides at Animal Kingdom during the day, it takes on a whole different feel at night. I will be completely honest and say that while the sunset safari is an amazing experience, once it actually gets pitch black out, you will be hard pressed to see any animals with any real clarity. They’ll all be there of course, but it gets DARK and a lot of them tend to shy away from the lights of the safari trucks. If you time your safari perfectly, however, then a Kilamanjaro Safari at or around sunset can be amazing! I always try to find out when the sun will setting for that particular day when I book my FastPass, and then book a little beforehand; this gives me a little leeway if the line takes longer than usual, or an animal decides to stand in the path of the trucks and the ride comes to a complete halt! Although Disney has created a fake sunset out on the savanna, the safari is best viewed when the sun really is setting; it creates a warm, soft glow across the savanna that is really beautiful, and offers a completely different experience to riding the safari in the daytime. If this is your first ever time experiencing Kilamanjaro Safari, I would probably suggest a daytime trip first, just to get the best views you possibly can of the animals, but it’s definitely worth coming back around in the evening to see it all again in a totally different light.
Tree of Life Awakenings
I’ve always loved the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, and I was really excited when they announced that it would be getting its own nighttime ‘show’, of sorts. The Tree of Life Awakenings occur every 10 minutes once the sun has gone down, and display projections onto the tree itself. I would advise getting to the tree ahead of a scheduled show time, as the area isn’t particularly big and can fill up fast. On top of that, there are lights and projections that happen before the show actually starts – I won’t spoil the surprise, but watch the tree carefully, especially the animals, and watch for movement!
There are different variations of the Tree of Like Awakenings, so it’s worth stopping to watch if you pass by, even if you’ve seen them before. The projections are amazing, and really make the tree come alive; you can see a doe waiting in a clearing, dinosaurs roaming a forest, butterflies taking flight into the night, and so much more. The shows are set to soft music that feel totally in keeping with the rest of the park and it’s message of living with the earth in harmony.
Pandora after dark
Of all the lands at Animal Kingdom after dark, Pandora: The World of Avatar is my favorite! I will admit to never having seen Avatar (and honestly, never having wanted to really!) but this land at night is absolutely magical. The floor is lit up with the bio luminescence of the world (the picture above is of the floor you walk around on!) and there are bright lights and sounds everywhere. Pandora is stunning during the day, but Pandora at night is something incredible. Read all about why you should be excited about visiting Pandora here!
The end of the night is also a great time to try to get on some of those Pandora rides with the long lines! Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey can easily have waits upwards of two hours during the day, and if you don’t have a FastPass (or feel like getting to the park an hour and a half before opening (yup, that’s a thing!) then you either wait in a crazy long line, skip the ride, or hold out until close to park closing. Ride wait times are often inflated at the end of the night, and even though a wait time might say 90 minutes, if you jump in line 15 minutes before the park closes (which is totally fine, you can get in that line right up until the park closes) then chances are that you’ll be off much sooner. It’s also fun to leave the park once the majority of the guests have left, affording you some beautiful views of an empty Animal Kingdom.
Rivers of Light
Before you leave Animal Kingdom at night, you should check out their nighttime show, Rivers of Light. This show caps off the end of a day at Animal Kingdom in the perfect style of the park; no big flashy fireworks or loud music, but beautiful lights, water projections, and soft music that is so in keeping with the theme of the park. Rivers of Light offers a FastPass and a dining package, both of which are good options if you’re going during a busy period. If you’re visiting during a slower time, however, Rivers of Light is a fairly easy show to walk up and watch without having to wait for a long time; I would say grab a snack and a drink and head over to the show around 45 minutes before it starts to get a seat.
Of all the Walt Disney World parks to visit at night, I would highly recommend taking the time to spend a few hours at Animal Kingdom after dark. This park is a totally different place at night, and has such a different feel than during the day. It’s definitely worth exploring after dark!