Avoid Crowds At This Secret Entrance Into A Popular Disney World Theme Park

When's the last time you visited the Rainforest Cafe gift shop at Disney's Animal Kingdom? If you answered, "Never," congratulations. You've just discovered a lesser-known entrance to Animal Kingdom that other guests might overlook as they're making a beeline for the front turnstiles. Just how secret this entrance really is in the grand scheme of Disney could depend on how well the average visitor knows Animal Kingdom's layout. The park receives millions of annual visitors, and many of those may be coming in from out of state on once-in-a-lifetime trips. A jungle-themed chain restaurant that originated in a Minnesota shopping mall might not be everyone's first dining choice on their Florida vacation, either.

Though it's not explicitly labeled "Entrance," the route through Rainforest Cafe's gift shop is shown on Animal Kingdom's official guide map. It's a side route, one that Florida-based Annual Passholders and other frequent Disney World visitors might take for granted, given that it's been around for years. When you've only been to Animal Kingdom once or twice, however, the Rainforest Cafe entrance isn't necessarily one that would jump out at you. This is because it's set back from the main entrance, tucked away deep in the heart of the rainforest, as it were.

Part of the fun of exploring Disney World is finding new things that you never noticed with each visit. Yet besides the novelty of venturing off the beaten path, using Rainforest Cafe to enter or exit Animal Kingdom could prove worthwhile for avoiding crowds.

Where to find Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom

In recent months, even panelists at the PlanDisney Q&A service have been fielding questions about the Rainforest Cafe entrance ahead of people's trips to Animal Kingdom. When you're inside the park, you might walk by the restaurant path without realizing it's connected to the outside. The sign inside the park (shown above) is more noticeable since it features a colorful array of animals, including the red-eyed tree frog mascot, Cha! Cha! As a Florida native weaned on Disney World trips, the first time I spotted that sign was back in 2017 when Pandora – The World of Avatar was in its opening summer. Many people probably breeze right past it en route to Pandora and the popular attraction, Avatar Flight of Passage.

A conservationist at Animal Kingdom might tell you that some tree frogs like Cha! Cha! can change colors and camouflage themselves, similar to chameleons. The sign for Rainforest Cafe is no different. The one outside Animal Kingdom blends in with the surrounding earth tones more, but you can find it off to the left of the main entrance. One thing to note is that Rainforest Cafe usually opens for breakfast at 8:30 a.m., whereas Animal Kingdom usually opens at 8 a.m., with Early Entry beginning at 7:30 a.m. If you're planning to be at the park in the morning right when the rope drops, the gift shop entrance would not be of much use to you.

Gift shop shortcut or restaurant break

If there's still a bottleneck of guests waiting outside Animal Kingdom after 8:30 a.m., you could try cutting through Rainforest Cafe's gift shop to avoid the crowds. You'll need a valid park ticket, of course, since you'll be passing through a security checkpoint like you would at the main entrance. It's the same as if you were using the "secret" International Gateway entrance to directly access the landmarks of World Showcase at the back of EPCOT. Since Rainforest Cafe is selling souvenirs and an immersive dining experience, however, there's always a chance Disney could decide to restrict the use of its gift shop entrance to guests with receipts.

On the plus side, Rainforest Cafe sometimes only has a short wait for tables. This could make it a good alternative if you want to get off your feet, but don't have a reservation for one of Animal Kingdom's busy table-service restaurants. The aquariums and Jungle Cruise-like animatronic elephants inside could also give Rainforest Cafe a fun atmosphere for kids. That said, the menu has some entrees over $30 or $40, so it's not necessarily the cheapest family dining option unless you want to split the large portions.

It's been 30 years since the first Rainforest Cafe opened in Minnesota's most-visited tourist attraction, the Mall of America, back in 1994. For adults of a certain age, this one in Disney World could provide a nostalgia trip. If nothing else, the open secret of its special entrance to Animal Kingdom might provide a shortcut.