The Best And Worst Time To Go On Animal Kingdom's Popular Safari

There's more to Disney's Animal Kingdom than just Pandora — The World of Avatar. In terms of wait times, Kilimanjaro Safaris is right up there with Avatar Flight of Passage and Na'vi River Journey as one of the park's most popular attractions. This is where Animal Kingdom lives up to its name and shows you some real live animals as you board a truck for a bumpy ride through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. With all the other animal-free rides like Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that it's as much a zoological park as it is a theme park. Kilimanjaro Safaris puts you in touch with both sides of that, letting riders see over 30 different species in their element, provided you catch them at the right time.

Unlike other Animal Kingdom attractions, Kilimanjaro Safaris isn't just subject to the whims of tourist crowds or the fickle malfunctions that sometimes cause Disney rides to break down. Even when the safari trucks are up and running, the best and worst time to ride one may depend on the animals' habits. Sometimes, they could appear to be hiding simply because they're resting out of sight somewhere in the 110-acre wildlife reserve. With hippos and crocodiles, for instance, you might only catch a glimpse of their heads above water. It helps to know when the animals are generally most active so you can maximize your sightings of them on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Plan around the Florida sun for Kilimanjaro Safaris

Like South Florida's Lion Country Safari, Kilimanjaro Safaris offers a savanna tour where you might momentarily forget you're in the Sunshine State, not Africa. Technically, it's Animal Kingdom's version of Africa, where the "Festival of the Lion King" show also takes place. As you cross the bridge into it, you might see tourists posing in front of Africa signs. Yet this is still Florida, and the weather here factors into how the safari animals behave. When it's too hot, they're more likely to be cooling off in the shade.

That's one reason why you'll hear frequent visitors recommend early morning, late afternoon, or early evening as the best time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris. Aim for when the sun is lower and the animals are out feeding, like our giraffe friend above. It's a tip backed up by panelists at planDisney, who suggest visiting first thing after the park opens or later in the day before it closes. Keep in mind, Animal Kingdom usually closes earlier than Disney's other parks, with Kilimanjaro Safaris often ending its tours before sunset.

Conversely, the worst time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris — especially in Florida's summertime heat — could be mid-day. This is true not only for animal sightings but potentially for your own comfort, as you'll be riding 20 minutes outdoors in an open-air truck. The tour's resident lions may actually be more comfortable than you since Disney reportedly built air conditioning into the rocks where they lounge.

Try to catch the Kilimanjaro Safari after it rains

One mistake to avoid when planning your next Florida trip is expecting all sunshine and no rain. The same is true of Animal Kingdom, where cooling rain can draw out the animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris after the downpour stops. When I was there with family one summer, we got caught in a typical afternoon rainstorm and ducked into Pizzafari. Later, I kicked myself for getting tied up there instead of heading straight for the real safari when the rain let up.

Understanding Lightning Lane can also help you strategize with Kilimanjaro Safaris since it's one of the attractions that service covers. You can always keep an eye out for special offerings on Disney's list of Enchanting Extras, too. One previous offering was a private Kilimanjaro Safaris ride, combined with a meal at Tiffins Restaurant and VIP seating for "Festival of the Lion King." When we did it, we had the safari truck mostly to ourselves, with only our guide and a few other guests.

If you don't mind paying for an add-on like that, the next best one that's often available is the Starlight Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. It offers the rare chance for a night safari at Disney (again, with real animals, as opposed to the fake ones you'd see on the Jungle Cruise at night). Otherwise, just keep the beginning or end of the day in mind as your best bet for spotting the most animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris.