Whether you’re a fan of the park or just trying to avoid the crowds of Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom makes a fantastic choice for Christmas Day. While Animal Kingdom certainly has a sizeable fan club, it tends to fall out of sight and mind when planning your Walt Disney World vacation. Many families (including my own) tend to think of the park as a half-day park. This couldn’t be further from the truth – the park has so much detail and such wonderful theming that you can certainly immerse yourself for a full day.
Of course when it comes to Christmas Day, many will flock to the three other parks. After all, Magic Kingdom and Christmas just seem to go hand in hand. The old-time feel of Main Street combines with the decorations and the nostalgia of the park for a truly remarkable experience. EPCOT features Christmas Around the World Showcase and Hollywood Studios has the Osborne Lights. Animal Kingdom lacks the true “Christmas feel.” How can one get excited for Christmas looking at animals or riding Expedition Everest? In the grand scheme of things, however, Animal Kingdom may be your best choice for Christmas Day.
While Christmas Day is incredibly popular with on-site guests, it’s also very popular for off-site guests. On Christmas, many guests living in Orlando and the surrounding area will make the trip to Disney for the day. If you only had just one day at Disney, which park would you choose? If you said “Animal Kingdom” you’re in the minority. By heading to Animal Kingdom on Christmas Day, you’ll avoid the surplus of off-site guests. And if you’re an off-site guest, you’ll avoid the risk of being turned away due to phased park closures. Aside from the lower crowd levels, Animal Kingdom is a very large park that can hold crowds well. However, some areas, such as Discovery Island do tend to get overcrowded, but most of the park is easy to get around.
Right now, the Walt Disney website lists the park hours for Animal Kingdom as 9am to 7pm. I’d assume that Disney will add a morning Extra Magic Hour. While the crowds may not be as overwhelming as Magic Kingdom, the park will definitely be much more crowded than you’re accustomed to. I’d still recommend getting there early. Shoot for the morning Extra Magic Hour or rope drop. Just as I recommended with Magic Kingdom, plan your FP+’s for later in the day. Animal Kingdom lacks the assortment of rides that Magic Kingdom boasts. Expedition Everest, the Kilimanjaro Safari and DINOSAUR are the only rides that warrant a FP+. Animal Kingdom also has a few shows, including the Lion King, and Finding Nemo – which warrant FP+ reservations.
I’d recommend exploring the park when you first arrive. There’s so much to see and do at Animal Kingdom and it’s so intricately designed that you’ll want to stop and admire the details. Magic Kingdom relies heavily on its rides. Once the rides have a long wait time, there’s not much more to do. At Animal Kingdom, you can fill your time by viewing the animals, exploring the park and going to shows.
Set your first FP+ for the Kilimanjaro Safari. The closer you can get to sunrise, the better. It’s truly an amazing experience early in the morning. If you can’t get early in the morning, I’d recommend around 10am. Your next FP+ should be around 11:30am or 12pm. Remember, the safari runs around 20-30 minutes. With the park being so large, you’ll want to leave yourself with time to get from attraction to attraction. Your final FP+ should be for around 1pm. From there, the rest of the day is up to you. If you get tired or the crowds are too much, you can head back to the resort. You may also spend the rest of the day watching the animals and going to shows. Unlike Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom has plenty of things to do outside the attractions.
Here are some other tips for Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom:
Have Breakfast at Tusker House
My family enjoyed breakfast at Tusker House last year – it was a fantastic meal! In my Magic Kingdom post, I spoke about the importance of “making the most of your morning.” At Animal Kingdom you can move at a much slower pace. Take time to enjoy Christmas Breakfast with the characters at Tusker House before exploring the rest of the park.
Enjoy the Park after the Sun Sets
Animal Kingdom usually closes around sunset. Until the renovations are complete, Christmas is one of the rare occasions that Animal Kingdom will stay open past sunset. It’s truly a unique experience. Look to the right of the bridge (on your way out) that connects The Oasis to Discovery Island. A lot of birds seem to settle in the trees surrounding the bridge. With the sun going down, it has a really cool (and kinda creepy) feel to it.
Enjoy the New Harambe Market
Like I mentioned above, the lower crowds give you an opportunity to experience other things around the park. The new Harambe Market is wonderfully themed and features some delicious food options for lunch and/or dinner. Get the lowdown on the new Harambe Market at Disney Food Blog.
Stop by the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Animal Kingdom lacks the Christmas decorations that other parks have. If you want the “Christmas experience,” head over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Like Disney’s other Deluxe resorts, the Animal Kingdom Lodge features detailed theming, gorgeous decor, and a resort-inspired Christmas tree. Whether you make a reservation at one of the resort’s delicious restaurants or just want to explore, I definitely recommend hopping on a bus to the hotel. There’s plenty of fantastic photo opportunities and a photographer in the lobby to take a photo of your family in front of the towering Christmas tree.