Why Does Animal Kingdom Close So Early?

Imagine being able to travel to the savannahs of Africa, the jungles of Asia, and the rainforests of the Amazon all in one day, without ever leaving Orlando. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park does just that by allowing you to explore our amazing planet and enjoy an unparalleled, immersive wildlife experience. But, why does Animal Kingdom close so early?

Unlike other theme parks where the attractions are inanimate objects (think… rollercoasters and waterslides), at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the star attractions are all living, breathing creatures. The animals who call Animal Kingdom home need to be fed and cared for by their keepers. After a busy day with visitors streaming in by the thousands, the animals need to be brought in for the night so they can rest in peace. That’s why Animal Kingdom closes so early.

But while the star residents of Animal Kingdom have a strict bedtime, it doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy the park, even with the limited opening hours. If you plan your day well, you can make the most of your visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and be back in your hotel early evening for some much-needed downtime.

Caring for 10,000 animals is a herculean task

Disney is extremely proud of providing the best-in-class conservation and animal care at all their theme parks, including Animal Kingdom. This 500-acre park opened in 1998 and is staffed by a diverse team of over 1,000 vets, zookeepers, animal care experts, scientists, and ushers who care for roughly 10,000 animals in the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Of these, about 2,000 animals from 300 species, including giraffes, lions, and zebra, live in Animal Kingdom. The rest of the animals live throughout Disney World, such as at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Fort Wilderness, and the Living Seas at Epcot.

The habitats at Animal Kingdom have been designed so that the animals can behave as naturally as possible. This means they require a fair bit of cleaning and maintenance. The park’s top priority is caring for the animals so they remain healthy and continue to thrive. This, unfortunately, means that Animal Kingdom has to close early to visitors so the staff can give the animals the care they need, such as feeding them, taking them in for the night, and performing other tasks like training them or providing health checks and delivering medical care.

If you’d like to take a peek at what goes on behind the scenes at Animal Kingdom, check out the eight-part documentary on Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom available on Disney+. It’s an all-encompassing backstage pass to the park. Each episode gives viewers an intimate look at the animals and what is involved in the multifaceted aspects of animal care, engineering, and operations at this popular and beloved park.

Animal Kingdom hours and attractions

Opening hours at Animal Kingdom vary seasonally. In general, typical hours at Animal Kingdom are 8 AM to 6 PM. The key attractions at the park include:

Thrill rides

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Dinosaur
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
  • Kali River Rapids

Indoor, stage shows, slow rides, and interactive

  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Na’vi River Journey
  • Tricera Top Spin
  • The Animal Experience at Conservation Station
  • Wilderness Explorers
  • Wilderness Express Train
  • Conservation Station
  • Dino-Sue
  • Fossil Fun Games
  • Tree of Life

Animal encounters

  • Discovery Island Trails
  • Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Maharaja Jungle Trek
  • The Oasis Exhibits
  • Affection Section
  • Disney Animals – African Birds, Elephants, Hogs, Lions, Cattle, Asian Small-Clawed Otters, Butterflies, Cotton-Top Tamarins, Flamingos, Gibbons, Giraffes, Gorillas, Hippos, Invertebrates, Komodo Dragons, Meerkats, Migratory Birds, Okapis, Rhinos, Tigers, Vultures, Zebras
  • Habitat Habit

Because the opening hours at Animal Kingdom are limited and the park closes early, it’s a good idea to do some research on the rides and attractions before you go. This will allow you to plan your day and include all the attractions you absolutely do not want to miss.

Hours for specific attractions at Animal Kingdom

Not only does Animal Kingdom close earlier than other Disney theme parks, but some of the rides and attractions have even further reduced opening times. In other words, not all the attractions open and close with the park. For example, the popular thrill ride Kali River Rapids usually opens late and closes early.

Some of the attraction opening times at Animal Kingdom are listed below. Keep in mind that these can change without notice. There’s no way to predict what the ride opening times will be on any given day, so be sure to check before your visit. The list below will give you a general idea of which attractions tend to open late and/or close early.

  • Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail 8:30 AM to 5 PM
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris 8 AM to 5 PM
  • Maharaja Jungle Trek 9 AM to 5 PM
  • Wilderness Explorers 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Wilderness Express Train 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Affection Section 9:30 AM to 5 PM
  • Disney Animals – African Birds, Elephants, Hogs, Lions, Cattle, Giraffes, Hippos 8 AM to 5 PM
  • Disney Animals – Okapis, Rhinos 8 AM to 5 PM
  • Disney Animals – Zebras 8 AM to 4:45 PM
  • Disney Animals – Cotton-Top Tamarins, Gorillas, Meerkats, Tigers 8:30 AM to 5 PM
  • Disney Animals – Gibbons, Komodo Dragons 9 AM to 5 PM
  • Disney Animals – Migratory Birds 9 AM to 4:45 PM
  • Disney Animals – Butterflies, Invertebrates 9:30 AM to 5 PM
  • Conservation Station 9:30 AM to 5 PM
  • Fossil Fun Games 10 AM to 4 PM
  • Habitat Habit 9:30 AM to 5 PM

An easy way to know the opening times for specific attractions at Animal Kingdom on the day of your visit is to check the My Disney Experience app. You’ll also be able to see the waiting times at each attraction to help you plan your day.

How to maximize one day in Animal Kingdom

The challenge of enjoying Animal Kingdom if you only have one day is that the park is gigantic (it’s five times the size of Magic Kingdom!). Also, some of the rides, such as the Kilimanjaro Safari, take a fair amount of time (20+ minutes). Of course, you also have to factor in waiting times at popular rides and attractions. So, if you want to see it all at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (or most of it) in one day, you need a solid plan. Here are some tips and tricks to help you maximize your experience:

  • If you stick to the rides alone, you’ll miss the opportunity to see some pretty cool animals. Remember, Animal Kingdom is a hybrid between a zoo, museum, and theme park, so be sure to include some animal encounters in your day.
  • Look at maps of the park before your visit so you don’t waste time wandering around or unnecessarily retracing your steps.
  • Pick a direction, clockwise or anti-clockwise, and stick to it (except if you’re using FastPass+ and need to make it across the park to jump on a ride).
  • Again, Animal Kingdom is huge, so pace yourself and allow time to get around, eat lunch, etc.
  • If you’ve got adults or older kids in your party who enjoy thrill rides like Expedition Everest, plan to ride them before lunch (you don’t want your lunch splattered all over your lap).

Animal Kingdom closes earlier than other Walt Disney World Parks because the animals have a schedule to follow. But it’s a fantastic park that celebrates the magic of nature, something that’s different from anything else Disney offers. Don’t avoid visiting Animal Kingdom because the park hours are shorter. All that’s needed is a little bit of planning and the entire family can have a great day at Animal Kingdom even though it closes early.

Dustin Baier

Hey, I'm Dustin a Dad of 4 and married to Sweet Pea Chef for over 15 years now :) We got engaged at the Disneyland Hotel way back when and love a vacation at Disney World, Universal Studios, really anywhere with theme parks!

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