Magic Kingdom vs Animal Kingdom, Which Is Better? A Full Breakdown

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The Animal Kingdom is the oft-forgotten little brother of the Walt Disney World parks.

It’s part zoo and part theme park. It opened in 1998 to a lot of fanfare but struggled a little to find its rightful place alongside the other parks. 

While that may be true, being the fourth Disney World park shouldn’t be an insult. Animal Kingdom can stand on its own as one of the best parks in the world. 

The Pandora section is immersive. The animal exhibits are informative and entertaining. 

The Animal Kingdom is a great park that is often overshadowed by its brothers. 

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What’s the difference between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom?

Aside from being entirely different theme parks? I suppose the biggest differences are both in form and function.

The Magic Kingdom was the first park at Walt Disney World in Florida. 

It’s iconic and classic. 

However, it also suffers from some design flaws that come with being the first of something. 

There’s not enough seating. Certainly, there’s not enough shade. It feels impossible – at times – for guests to escape the burning Florida sun

Animal Kingdom, however, opened in 1998 and benefits from lessons learned over three decades of running a park in Florida. 

While it still can be hard to find a comfortable resting place, there is a lot more shade. The overall design is more pedestrian friendly. 

The main difference? Chiefly, the Magic Kingdom doesn’t have to function as a world-class zoo. 

Read Also: Is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Closing in 2024? Addressing the Rumors

Magic Kingdom Walt Disney World
Magic Kingdom may be the first-day choice of the Disney parks for many (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Should I go to Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom first?

There are a lot of factors that could go into that decision. 

In the olden days, I would plan which park on which day based on the varying application of Extra Magic Hours. However, Disney has taken the variety out of the schedule, so now it’s just preference.

Generally speaking, I want to hit the park with my favorite attractions first. That way if something goes wrong and I miss, for instance, Frozen Ever After at EPCOT – I can get a park hopper or change my plans to pick it up later in the trip. 

Throwing weather out of the equation, this is my ideal Disney World theme park itinerary for a week’s stay:

Day 1: Arrive and check in. Maybe go to Disney Springs. 

Day 2: Go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios: The Star Wars rides in Galaxy’s Edge are absolute musts as is Toy Story Land. If something goes down, I want as many options as possible to rectify our itinerary. 

Day 3: Visit Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney World’s number one park comes in on the second day for us.

Day 4: I like to work in a break day. By day four, we hang at the hotel and swim or go to Disney Springs. In fairness, I always say I’m going to plan this day but I always end up booking more park time. The reduced pricing at five of six days is just too tempting. 

Day 5: Visit EPCOT. Start at the back of the park and enjoy the world showcase pavilions. Norway! France! Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind! Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure! 

Day 6: Go to Animal Kingdom. Pandora rules as does Kilimanjaro Safaris. 

Day 7: Visit Magic Kingdom again. I love the other parks, but I just like to end the vacation with the magic of the fireworks at Cinderella’s Castle. 

Is it possible to do Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom in one day?

Not really, no. Technically, you can get a park hopper and get a general feel for each park – a soupçon if you will. But there’s too much at each park to say you’ve done both in a single day.

Disney World Bus
The Disney World shuttle bus between parks takes around 15 to 20 minutes depending on the crowd size (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

How long is the ride from Animal Kingdom to Magic Kingdom?

The Disney bus shuttle ride between parks will take 15 to 20 minutes.

With this in mind, total travel time depends on how lucky you are to catch the bus.

Animal Kingdom Entrance
Animal Kingdom is Disney’s largest park (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Animal Kingdom bigger than Magic Kingdom?

The Animal Kingdom is much bigger at 500 acres, but much of that property is off-limits to guests because it’s reserved for animals.

The Magic Kingdom is a little over 100 acres, according to most sources.

Which is better, Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom?

Frankly, the answer seems obvious but we here at HeyOrlando.com are in pursuit of absolute truth, and you cannot reach absolute truth by taking the easy way. We’re going to get to the bottom of this scientifically. 

It’s Dumbo the Flying Elephant versus real elephants.

The Jungle Cruise versus Kali River Rapids.

It’s Adventureland versus something akin to actual real-life adventure. 

Therefore, it’s time for the tale of the tape: Battle of the Kingdoms.

Pirates of the Caribbean Ride Cars Magic Kingdom
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride vehicles at Disney’s Magic Kingdom work well for young kids (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

1. Which park has better attractions for kids?

Magic Kingdom has this one on lockdown. In fact, you might not even have to leave Fantasyland with Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Winnie the Pooh and more.

That’s not even counting rides like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland and Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland.

On the other hand, what does Animal Kingdom have for kids’ rides? It has the TriceraTop Spin which is a literal ripoff of Dumbo’s Flying Elephants.

Some other rides are also good for kids like Kilimanjaro Safaris and Na’vi River Journey

Point? Magic Kingdom.

Tron Cars on Track Magic Kingdom
The new Tron ride helps the Magic Kingdom gain a point in our rating system (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

2. Which park has better coasters?

Before the opening of Tron: Lightcycle, Animal Kingdom had a chance with its single entry: Expedition Everest, which is a great coaster.

But with Tron added to the roster of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland and Space Mountain, this one is an easy call. 

Point? Magic Kingdom.

Read Also: Is the Magic Kingdom Worth It? What You Can and Can’t Skip

Avatar Flight of Passage Animal Kingdom Mural
Avatar Flight of Passage is one of the greatest rides ever built (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

3. Which park has better non-coaster rides?

Avatar Flight of Passage is one of the greatest rides ever built. Specifically, it’s immersive, breathtaking and just awesome. It’s a thrill ride. 

Does Magic Kingdom have anything at all that stacks up? I don’t think so. Maybe the newly refurbished Splash Mountain will throw its hat in the ring, but I’m not holding my breath. 

Point? Animal Kingdom.

Yak & Yeti Animal Kingdom
The Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom’s Asia offers some good dining (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

4. Which park has better dining options?

There are a lot of great places to eat in the Magic Kingdom. I love Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, Casey’s Corner and Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square to name a few.

But none of them compare to the Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom’s Asia. And that’s not even counting the excellent dining in Africa and Pandora: World of Avatar. 

Point? Animal Kingdom.

Kids With Piglet at the Crystal Palace
The kids, pictured with Piglet, enjoyed the character dining at the Crystal Palace (photo by Kirby Russell/HeyOrlando.com)

5. Which park has better character dining?

I love the character dining experience at Tusker House at Animal Kingdom. It’s great. Especially the breakfast.

But Magic Kingdom has Cinderella’s Royal Table with its princesses and Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh characters.

We took my then 80-something-year-old Disney-living grandmother to Crystal Palace. Even into adulthood, Nanny was known to her brothers and sisters and cousins and eventually nieces and nephews as Winnie or Pooh because of her love for A. A. Milne’s character. 

When Winnie the Pooh came around to our table, we told him that. 

After he finished his rotation, he came back with a special present and a hug that made her laugh like a kid again. 

Do you think I’m picking against Crystal Palace for anything? 

Point? Magic Kingdom. 

lion king show with performers and timon and simba
Festival of the Lion King features a retelling of the film and immerses the audience in theatrics and classic songs (media photo by Ryan Wendler/Disney World)

6. Which park has better shows?

Animal Kingdom has the excellent Festival of the Lion King and the pretty good Finding Nemo! Big Blue and Beyond as well as the just okay It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

Magic Kingdom has the forgettable Mickey’s Philharmagic and the forgettable Hall of Presidents. But it also has the classic Tiki Room. And It also has the classic but dated Country Bear Jamboree

Love the Tiki Room, but it’s hard to be the King. 

Point? Animal Kingdom.

Giraffe on safari at animal kingdom
See a variety of animals including giraffes on the safari ride at Animal Kingdom (photo by Alaina O’Neal/HeyOrlando.com)

7. Which park has more wildlife?

This one may be obvious, but Animal Kingdom has giraffes, zebras, monkeys, tigers, lions and more. It also has the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail.

Magic Kingdom has whatever is going on at the Jungle Cruise. 

Point? Animal Kingdom. 

Disney's Cinderella Castle
A view of the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

8. Which park has a better centerpiece?

The Magic Kingdom has the iconic Cinderella Castle as the spoke in its wheel. Animal Kingdom has the very cool Tree of Life on Discovery Island. 

Iconic beats cool. 

Point? Magic Kingdom. 

Fireworks Behind Cinderella's Castle
The Magic Kingdom fireworks are breathtaking (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

9. Which one has a better park closing show?

The fireworks show at Cinderella Castle is a breathtaking experience. It is expertly done with showmanship. Above all, it evokes a wide range of emotions. 

The nighttime show at Animal Kingdom is good. However, it lacks compared to its big brother. In fairness, due to the animals, they can’t have the big booming fireworks, but that’s ultimately what pushes the Magic Kingdom over the top. 

Point? Magic Kingdom.

And there you have it. In a match that was much closer than anticipated, Magic Kingdom hangs on to win over its little brother.

Which park do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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