Updated: May 21, 2015
Going to Disney's Animal Kingdom with Smaller Children:I just got back from a recent trip to Disneyworld (Feb. 2009) with my wife and 2 kids. We ventured all the way to Orlando from Portland, Oregon so that we could enjoy a week in the warm sunshine of Florida. Our kids are 4 (son) and 7 (daughter) and we weren't sure just what activities our children could handle at each park. All the guide books talk about are FASTPASS rides and making the most of your days in Disneyworld and all the theme parks. We knew our kids couldn't ride all the attractions so we focused on the entertainment aspect to each park. Disney's Animal Kingdom was a real treat for us and I must say that even the younger children in your group will enjoy the park. There are enough shows, trails, and parades to keep even the toddlers in your group interested in what's going on around you. The good news is that the park isn't open as long as the others at Disneyworld - when we went the hours were 9 AM to 5 PM and we showed up closer to 10 AM and still did everything we needed to do before the park closed.
What we tried to do first was ride the Kilimanjaro Safaris in the Africa section of the park. This ride takes you in an open air safari vehicle into a savannah where wild animals roam freely. We saw hippos, giraffes, ostrich, gazelles, elephants, lions and rhinos. The lions were the only disappointment as they were lying down and sleeping when we went by in the vehicle and we didn't get a good look. The ride itself takes about 15 minutes and definitely will keep kids of all ages at attention as there are literally animals crossing right in front of the vehicle. We had a giraffe poke its noise inside the car as we drove by. After we unloaded from this ride we took a leisurely stroll through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail where we saw gorillas, fish, birds, and even hippos. The kids liked this area of the park quite a bit. As you head out of the trail take a sharp right and go off to the Wildlife Express Train which isn't all that exciting of a ride but you can get off at Rafiki's Planet Watch where there is a petting area with animals. Take the train back to Africa and head down to the Festival of the Lion King live show which is truly amazing. Our kids loved singing along with the cast and watching the extravagent floats come out with all the entertainers on them. The show was about 20 minutes and well worth it. Just outside the show is a character greeting area and we had a chance to see Minnie Mouse. At this point you could stop for lunch or continue into Dinoland. We found that lunch was a great break from the action and after lunch our kids played in The Boneyard area of Dinoland, U.S.A. The play area has slides, climbing structures and more for toddlers and bigger kids to enjoy and this lets the parents take a break as well from having to entertain the kids.
The DINOSAUR ride is probably too much for the little ones and there is a height requirement on this ride. Many parents said the motion of the vehicle and the loud noises are a bit much for smaller kids. We say skip this ride and head to the Tricera Top Spin or the if you older kids can handle it, check out the Primeval Whirl. One of our favorite shows of the day was the Finding Nemo - The Musical. This stage show encompasses live actors holding onto large puppets and acting out the movie (more or less). The show is about 25 minutes and is very well done. My little 4 year old son really like the show and enjoyed it when some of the characters came into the audience. This show filled up fast so get there early to avoid being the last one into the auditorium and getting terrible seats. The last area we explored was Asia and I have to admit I went on the Expedition Everest roller coaster while my family watched. It's actually just fun watching the coaster come down the hill and hearing the people scream. Kali River Rapids was a bit much for our group so we headed to the Flights of Wonder bird show. The kids got a little bored with it, but the show isn't too long and it gives you chance to sit down and relax. After the show we did the Maharajah Jungle Trek which again let the kids walk at their pace and enjoy seeing tigers, a tapir, fruit bats, and a komodo dragon. Another show that may be worth considering is the It's Tough to be a Bug show on the Discovery Island section. The show itself is in 3D and can be a bit frightening to smaller kids. They squirt water on your (just a bit) and there appears to be bugs under your seats that move. The show is only a few minutes long. By this point we were all a little tired and so we headed over to watch the Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade to end the day. The parade was a nice finish and the kids were ready to go home at about 5 PM. We went back to Downtown Disney that night and had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe (their favorite restaurant). The shows at Animal Kingdom are well done and this gives your little ones a chance to sit down and rest their little legs or perhaps even sleep in your arms. I enjoyed the chance to rest my feet and watch shows that I probably never would see otherwise.