Animal Kingdom for Infants
A lush jungle of landscaping and trees, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is part nature park, part zoo (though themed to the nth degree, and unlike any zoo you’ve ever seen before), and part amusement park. In its early years, it was plagued with problems of not having enough to do, though that has changed in recent times. Infants will like the natural setting well enough, but there aren’t a lot of rides to fill up a second or third day. Much of the interest comes from exhibits and environments rather than rides.
When planning your Disney World vacation you might want to break Animal Kingdom up into two days especially if you have an infant. The weather can be extremely hot in Orlando and Animal Kingdom does not have many shady areas.
Every restroom in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is equipped with a changing table in the form of dedicated counter space with some raised edges to prevent roll off. There are sometimes paper towels provided as well, but not diapers or baby wipes. Diaper disposal is done directly into the regular trash cans, which are changed often.
Without fail, the changing tables in women’s restrooms are more in demand than in the men’s, so if it’s possible, you may want to arrange to change diapers in the men’s room.
The child care center is a godsend for parents with infants. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it’s located at the end of Main Street, just to the side of the Crystal Palace. Here is a room with rockers, into which only nursing mothers may go. Also in the center is a space set aside for changing tables, a play area for older siblings (it includes a TV playing Disney movies), bathrooms and training potties, and a shop selling baby products like diapers, wipes, creams, and clothing. Just about everything you could possibly need is sold here.
Younger infants who cannot sit up need to be kept in car seats all day, so the assumption is that such children traveled to Orlando with those seats and a personal stroller. Older infants who can sit up may also have their own strollers along for the trip. If not, strollers can be rented near the Main Entrance, including double strollers to hold two children. These are hard plastic, highly durable pieces of equipment, so comfort is not the first concern. Stroller theft is almost unheard of. Sometimes rented strollers are taken by accident, so don’t leave valuables behind. If that happens, replacing the rental is easily accomplished, so keep the receipt.A good many parents bring or rent strollers for children who can walk, planning to let the child use the stroller only later in the day when he or she becomes tired. Also, a stroller becomes a useful cart for holding personal items like purchases, jackets, or bags.
In addition to the baby center, mothers may nurse anywhere in the park. No one will ask nursing mothers to stop or move. Many mothers choose a bench and simply use a blanket to cover up while nursing (not all use a blanket, but not doing so will draw additional attention). Because outdoor Florida is too hot in summer and sometimes too cold in winter, many mothers choose to find a spot in climate-controlled indoors. Good spots in Disney’s Animal Kingdom include restaurants (especially Pecos Bill’s or Pinocchio Village Haus).
Since infants don’t particularly care about their surroundings (it’s all new to them), this list will focus on rides that you can ride with your infant in your arms (or in a snugli), presented in subjective order of importance, starting with rides infants seem to like the best.
- TriceraTop Spin – a classic “spinner” attraction like Dumbo, themed to cartoony dinosaurs. Fortunately, it seldom has a line. Small children always like these rides, despite their limited appeal to adults.
- Maharaja Jungle Trek – a nature walk, passing by several smaller animal exhibits before culminating in an impressively-themed tiger enclosure. Visitors really feel like they’ve slipped into Southeast Asia in this space. Infants tend to bore relatively quickly on the nature walks.
- Pangani Forest Exploration Trail – a nature walk with smaller exhibits and encounters with silverback gorillas (either across a gorge or behind very thick glass). Infants tend to bore relatively quickly on the nature walks.
- Kilimanjaro Safari – an outdoor jeep ride, this attraction is the closest thing to a real safari you will find outside of Africa. All the recognizable animals are here, presented in enclosures so cunningly hidden you’ll swear they are free to roam around and attach each other. The journey is bouncy, so young infants should steer clear until they can hold up their heads.
- It’s Tough to be a Bug – a 3-D movie with theater-level effects. Boys especially will revel at the insectoid theme and the creepy-crawly effects, many of which poke and prod the audience members directly. The attraction is designed to startle, shock, and entertain visitors—in that order. One dark and loud sequence is especially scary, however, so some infants may wish to skip this ride.
Then, there are rides that you will either have to skip, or ride without your infant
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- Primeval Whirl
Two attractions generate most of the lines at this park: Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris. On hot days, Kali River Rapids also sports very long lines. Use FASTPASS liberally for these attractions. Many guides advise seeing the safari first thing in the morning, as animals are more active. That may be true, marginally, but the lines are much longer in the morning as a result, so much so that it would be worthwhile to visit this attraction later in the day, facing greatly reduced lines. Be aware, however, that the safari closes earlier than the park sometimes, if sundown approaches before the park hours end.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom makes liberal use of shows; use your own judgment if you are the kind of person who likes shows as much as rides. Here is my list of shows at this park, ranked in order of importance for infants:
- Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade – a modest (and modestly successful) parade that combines plant and animal motifs into the floats, somewhat the same way plants and animals form the basis for all attractions at this park (seen most clearly in the carvings on the Tree of Life). The presence of Disney characters on each float, however, is all your baby is likely to notice.
- Finding Nemo: The Musical – a phenomenal Broadway-quality musical that will delight young and old alike. This is the only truly “don’t miss” stage show at Disney World. Even young infants will be just as entranced as adults.
- Festival of the Lion King – a rollickin’ indoor musical show, this offering vibrates with energy and kinetic activity, ideal for kids of all ages. Its mood is boisterous and uplifting, leaving visitors energized and entertained.
- Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends – a more intimate stage show that mixes live actors, theater effects, and live animals in a cute setting.
- Flights of Wonder – a standard bird show with minor tricks and somewhat heavy conservationist overtones. Attempts at cuteness and humor fall flat about as often as they hit.
Starting in 2007, Yak and Yeti offers table-service dining inside Animal Kingdom; just outside the park’s gates also stands Rainforest Café for further options.Most of the dining inside the park is quick-service. Tusker House in Africa has some tasty and unique dishes, or you could eat at the Flame Tree BBQ for savory, though slightly less adventurous, tastes. If you’re in the mood for more traditional food, Pizzafari seems a safe bet (it also has the most tables and chairs in a climate-controlled setting), and you can’t get more familiar than the food at Restaurantosaurus, which is merely a highly-themed McDonald’s. This is also the only location for character dining at Animal Kingdom, which takes place in the morning only.Beyond all these choices are the highly visible food stands along major paths, offering everything from turkey legs to hot dogs to pretzels. The park was designed to encourage wandering and exploration on foot more than loitering and eating, so factor that into your planning for food.At every location, there are highchairs available simply for the asking. None of the restaurants sell baby food; you’ll have to purchase that at the baby center.
In addition to the Character Dining mentioned above, you can occasionally find costumed characters that simply walk around, but this is uncommon at this park. More commonly, the characters can be found at the character meeting areas set aside specially for them:
- DiVine – an Animal Kingdom specialty, this is an acrobat dressed in heavy makeup and ivy props, and wearing stilts. Properly situated and still, she waits amid the bushes, becoming disconcertingly invisible. Not out at all hours.
- Discovery Boat Dock – minimal waits for classic Disney characters on this boat dock, visible from the main entrance bridge but accessed near Flame Tree BBQ.
- Character Greeting Trails at Camp Minnie-Mickey – several open-air verandas are dedicated to a rotating crew of characters, with lines blazing a trail through thick hedges.
- Conservation Station – Disney characters associated with wild animals can often be found here, with very little lines.
- Outside the Main Entrance –in the afternoon and towards closing, Disney characters are often out between the security check and the ticket booths, though lines here can be long and slow-moving. You may also have luck spotting characters in the break between the trees when walking toward Camp Minnie-Mickey. Also, some cheesy dinosaur characters created just for this park wander through Dino-Rama occasionally.
At all the character interactions, as well as key photogenic locations, you may run across park workers offering to take your picture and “put it on a card.” This is a free service and ideal for vacationers. On your first such encounter, you’ll get a card. On all future encounters, hand over the card and they’ll swipe it, making sure that whatever photos are taken get added to your account. When you return home after your vacation, you can view the pictures online, and order prints of any that you desire, with no pressure whatsoever.
Here are a few experiences that don’t draw nearly as many crowds, but may be of paramount importance to your particular child (pick and choose as your preferences dictate):
- Wildlife Express Train – almost an attraction unto itself, this train exists only to provide transportation to the labs and petting zoo. Still, virtually all kids like trains.
- Conservation Station – small educational displays augment the working labs (and veterinarian station and operating table) located here.
- Affection Section – the outdoor petting zoo, which features only sheep and a few goats.
- Boneyard – a playground themed to an archeological dig, this place has more slides than anything else, but the sandbox is the primary draw for babies.
- Tree of Life and Discovery Island Trails – the distinctive Tree of Life is home to It’s Tough to be a Bug, and the animals carved into the tree will fascinate children. But don’t miss out on the chance to meander through the trails surrounding the tree. They lead seemingly nowhere, but you’ll stumble across animal exhibits and secluded areas that will do much to relax you. It’s just more for you and your baby to look at, but this time without crowds.
- Oasis Exhibits – small animal exhibits ring the Oasis, just inside the Main Gate, and are often completely overlooked, especially in the middle of the day.
- Cretaceous Trail – prehistoric plants and fossilized dinosaur bones give this trail some character.