Deciding whether to spend that day at Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom?
Since these two parks are often considered to be Disney World’s “smaller” (not so much anymore) parks, it’s common for guests to wonder which one is worth spending the most time at. This quick guide will break down the things you need to know about each park.
Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom? – The Short Answer
Animal Kingdom is best for animals, live stage shows, and outstanding rides. Hollywood Studios is best for thrill rides, Star Wars, and other film-centric themes. Overall, Animal Kingdom feels like a more complete experience and Hollywood Studios feels like a collection of attractions.
You’ll find that Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios both make plenty of appearances in our huge list of Disney World must-do rides, restaurants, and attractions.
Hollywood Studios vs Animal Kingdom: Rides
Winner: Hollywood Studios
Both Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom have some great rides, so this one was a difficult pick. I decided to give Hollywood Studios the nod partly due to the classics like Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and partly due to the Star Wars rides that are coming. Again, both parks really do have a handful of top-tier rides.
Hollywood Studios’ Best Rides
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (10/10)
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is always right at the top of my Disney World ride list. I love everything about this one. Starting off, the line queue is by far one of the best you’ll find anywhere. Disney nailed the aesthetic of an old, paranormal Hollywood Hotel, complete with hotel employees that have some of the best ride-themed outfits. Most importantly, the ride itself is fantastic. After a quick journey through the hotel hallway, you’ll find yourself quickly falling and rising through multiple stories. The beauty of the ride is that it’s programmed to change its sequence. This means that you can enjoy the ride multiple times and experience something new each time.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (9/10)
I know plenty of people who consider Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster to be their favorite ride at Disney World. It’s totally understandable, as Rockin’ is one of the most intense roller coasters on the property. It’s famous for two things: Aerosmith and the ride’s 0-57mph, 2.8-second takeoff. After the jolting takeoff, the indoor roller coaster goes through a dark track that includes multiple inversions. Most Disney coasters don’t invert, so Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is refreshing for guests who are looking for that extra thrill. The only knock on Rockin’ is it doesn’t last as long as you’d hope with such long wait times. Definitely use a FastPass here.
Star Tours (9/10)
Star Tours is an excellent simulator-style ride that takes you on journeys through outer space and alien planets. I’m not always keen on simulators, but Star Tours does a really good job. Once you’re loaded up into the ship, an animatronic C3PO serves as your pilot through scenes ranging from Endor to a version of the Death Star. It’s a lot of fun and it also includes a little interactive part where a guest will be singled out on the screen. The best thing about Star Tours is that there are a variety of scenes to mix-and-match for the experience. You can ride it many times without ever seeing the exact same lineup.
Toy Story Mania! (9/10)
Toy Story Mania is an interactive video game shooter-style ride. Your ride vehicle takes you through a series of shootable screens with all sorts of targets. The goal is to use the cannon mounted on your vehicle to rack up as high a score as possible. The game itself is surprisingly fun and there are tons of little secrets hidden inside each scene. If you’ve ever been on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Magic Kingdom, think of Toy Story Mania as an updated version with screens instead of physical targets.
Slinky Dog Dash (8/10)
Slinky Dog Dash is one of the newest rides at Hollywood Studios. The roller coaster opened with the Toy Story Land addition to the park. It’s considered to be a family-friendly coaster, but it has just enough thrill to make it fun for everyone. Its newness has made it a very popular ride, so try to find a FastPass if you don’t want to deal with long wait times.
Upcoming Star Wars Rides (???/10)
I cheated a bit by factoring in the upcoming Star Wars rides, but they are noteworthy enough to warrant a mention. The two planned attractions include a Millenium Falcon ride and an attraction that places you into a First Order vs Resistance battle. It’s possible that they won’t live up to the hype, but I’m pretty confident that these will be top-tier for Hollywood Studios.
Animal Kingdom’s Best Rides
Kilimanjaro Safaris (10/10)
Kilimanjaro Safaris takes you on a truck ride through Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Reserve. It’s one of the most incredible, unique experiences at Disney World and it’s one of my favorite rides. The reserve is huge and features a ton of variety in wildlife and landscape. You’ll see lions, elephants, giraffes, and a LOT more roaming around during the ride. The trip lasts for 20+ minutes, which means it is one of the longest Disney World ride experiences. Check out our quick guide to Kilimajaro Safaris to learn about the best time to go and other useful ride tips.
Expedition Everest (10/10)
Expedition Everest if my personal favorite Disney World roller coaster. The theme is awesome and so is the ride itself. The unique thing about Everest is that it switches to reverse, then back to forward about halfway through the ride. It’s a really cool sensation to plunge into the darkness at high speeds in reverse. Bonus points are awarded for the gigantic animatronic yeti that lives inside the mountain. Expedition Everest is particularly great at nighttime and you get some really cool views of Animal Kingdom on your way up.
Avatar Flight of Passage (10/10)
Avatar Flight of Passage is a groundbreaking new ride at Animal Kingdom. It opened with the Pandora: The World of Avatar section of the park. First off, the line queue is absolutely worth experiencing at least once. And I say that as a Disney World local who almost never chooses to wait in any long line because I always have FastPasses. The ride simulates a ride on a banshee through Pandora. You’re situated in a sort of motorcycle position atop a stationary ride vehicle. It’s in a fixed position, but it moves you around to simulated motions during the flight. Long story short, this is one of the best simulator-style rides at any theme park, period.
Dinosaur is a topsy-turvy dark ride that takes you on a trip through a dino-infested track. There are animatronic dinosaurs all around, with the highlight being a huge carnotaurus toward the end. It really can’t be overstated how bump this ride is. You’ll be plenty shook up by the end of the track. All in all, this is a good ride that usually has manageable wait times.
Kali River Rapids (7/10)
Kali River Rapids is an outdoor raft ride. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s fun. The ride’s surroundings are one of its best features and there is lots of nice scenery around. Be warned though: It’s very likely that you’ll get very wet.
Na’vi River Journey (7/10)
Na’vi River Journey is the second ride in the Pandora section of Animal Kingdom. It’s an okay ride, but I honestly find it a bit lackluster when compared to the rest of Pandora. The ride is a dark water ride through a fluorescent representation of the Avatar world at night. There are some cool parts here and there, but overall the ride could have benefitted from a bit more substance. The highlight of the ride is definitely the animatronic Na’vi character that you’ll see at the end. It’s one of the most spectacular pieces of Disney animatronics at any location.
Hollywood Studios vs Animal Kingdom: Restaurants
Winner: Animal Kingdom
Even though Animal Kingdom doesn’t have a massive number of restaurants, the park’s dining is easily superior to Hollywood Studios’. From quick-service to signature table-service restaurants, Animal Kingdom wins out all across the board.
Animal Kingdom’s Best Restaurants
Tiffins is one of Animal Kingdom’s newer restaurants. It was a welcome addition to the park, adding a true signature restaurant to a park that desperately needed one. Tiffins’ newness has kept it a bit overlooked at Animal Kingdom, but make no mistake- it has some of Disney World’s best food. The menu works for all appetites, but it has a more adventurous theme than most. You’ll find some wilder options here like charred octopus or wild game. The theme at Tiffins is also top-notch and celebrates the Disney Imagineers’ journey in researching and developing the Animal Kingdom park. This one is especially good for adults and it ranks high on our list of best grownup Disney World restaurants.
Yak & Yeti (9/10)
Yak & Yeti is a Pan-Asian restaurant with a Nepalese theme. The food is great and the atmosphere is too. The menu has plenty of familiar Asian dishes and just about everything is good from grilled duck to lo mein and dim sum. Can’t go wrong here. It’s one of my favorite in-park restaurants and it’s a unique atmosphere for an Asian restaurant.
Satu’li Canteen (9/10)
Satu’li Canteen is technically a quick-service/counter-service restaurant, but it’s so good that I’m including it with the big boys. The Canteen is one of my favorite park restaurants and I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve eaten there. The beauty of the restaurant is the menu that features “bowls”. You pick a protein, pick a base, then finish it with a special sauce. For example, I usually order the chicken/steak combo with the red and sweet potato hash base, topped with creamy herb sauce. It’s really unique and it’s as good as you’ll find at any in-park quick-service location.
Animal Kingdom Quick-Service Restaurants (7/10)
Flame Tree Barbecue, Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe, and Satu’li Canteen are the top-tier Animal Kingdom quick-service spots. After that, there’s a big drop off. Those three alone are good enough to help Animal Kingdom hold its own though.
Hollywood Studios’ Best Restaurants
Sci Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant (7/10)
The Sci Fi Dine-In isn’t really a restaurant you choose for the food alone. The real draw is that it’s an indoor restaurant that simulates the experience of an outdoor drive-in movie theater. The table are shaped like cars and there is a big screen that plays classic science fiction thrillers while you eat. It’s cool for anyone who likes that idea of experiencing an old-school drive-in theater in the modern era.
The Hollywood Brown Derby (7-8/10)
The Hollywood Brown Derby pretty much stands in a league of its own as far as Hollywood Studios dining goes. It’s the parks’ only real signature-level restaurant and features a menu that is markedly more upscale than what you’ll find anywhere else in the park. It’s good, but it’s probably not going to rock your world. The most buzzworthy menu item is the Cobb Salad. The original Brown Derby restaurant was famous for pioneering the original Cobb salad. It’s a good restaurant for adults, but it’s not particularly interesting for kids.
Hollywood Studios Quick-Service Restaurants (4/10)
Most of the quick-service options at Hollywood Studios are simply standard park food. Compared to other Disney World parks, this is one area where Hollywood Studios falls way short. The most exciting quick-service available is the new Woody’s Lunch Box restaurant inside Toy Story Land. It has some unique items like homemade pop-tarts and nacho tater tots. I’m excited to see how the upcoming Star Wars Cantina to open up. Hopefully, it should drastically help out Hollywood Studios’ restaurant problem.
Hollywood Studios vs Animal Kingdom: Entertainment & Attractions
Winner: Animal Kingdom
Hollywood Studios may have the reputation for having the best “film” related entertainment and attractions, but Animal Kingdom happens to have two of the best. It also has the added aspect of the showcase of wild animals throughout the park. Animal Kingdom is the clear winner here.
Animal Kingdom’s Best Entertainment and Attractions
Festival of the Lion King (10/10)
Festival of the Lion King is one of the two Animal Kingdom stage shows that I consider must-do’s for anyone visiting the park. The show is high energy and high quality from beginning to end. The singing and performing is top-notch, especially for a free (minus the price of a park ticket) admission. A circular theater makes every seat a good seat, so I there’s never really a need to use a FastPass for this one unless its super busy.
Finding Nemo: The Musical (10/10)
Finding Nemo: The Musical is a stage show that features the same storyline from the Finding Nemo film. The show uses all sorts of elaborate puppets and props to tell the story in a new and interesting way. The show quality is really high and it’s hard to pick which one is better between it and Festival of the Lion King. Unless (for some strange reason) you hate awesome shows, don’t skip either one.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (9/10)
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail is wildlife trail in the Africa section of Animal Kingdom. There are a number of animals from hippos to meerkats, but the draw is obviously the gorillas. There are two separate areas to observe them. One area is dedicated to the female gorillas and the babies. You’ll be able to get pretty close to them with a glass barrier separating you from them. The other area is a more open outdoor area that contains the male gorillas. My favorite thing to do here is to catch the male gorillas at a time when they are being fed by a cast member. They’ll call the male gorillas together and throw fruit to them from the guest walkway. I’m always highly entertained at watching the gorillas snag fruit out of the air.
Maharajah Jungle Trek (9/10)
The Maharajah Jungle Trek is the Asian equivalent of the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. It has a good mix of animals with tigers being the main attraction. Some of the other highlights include the flying foxes, Komodo dragon, and water buffalo. An underrated aspect of the Maharajah Jungle Trek is the ambiance. There are highly detailed landscapes and buildings that help make for an immersive experience.
Up! A Great Bird Adventure (9/10)
Up! A Great Bird Adventure is a live show that showcases performances from a number of exotic birds. This show has been around for a while, but was recently updated to include Russell and Doug from the Up film. It’s a very entertaining show and there are some really interesting birds.
It’s Tough to be a Bug! (9/10)
It’s Tough to be a Bug is an Animal Kingdom classic. It’s a 4D film that shows in a theater underneath the Tree of Life in the middle of the park. The film incorporates real bugs with characters from A Bug’s Life to create a pretty fun experience. A word of warning though- Even though it’s not a “scary” attraction, the 4D insect experience has set off many a small child.
Rivers of Light (6/10)
Rivers of Light is Animal Kingdom’s alternative to a nightly fireworks show. Everything takes place in the middle of a lake. There are lots of lights and floats, but the proximity to the animals means no fireworks. I’m not extremely impressed by the show, but it’s an ok timekiller if you aren’t on a tight schedule. Don’t sacrifice anything important though just to watch it.
Hollywood Studios’ Best Entertainment & Attractions
Fantasmic is big outdoor show that takes place after sundown in Hollywood Studios. There’s a lot going on- fireworks, performers, water floats, light, etc. A lot of the show takes place on the stage with a giant rock formation, but there’s also a waterway that wraps around the stage. The floats are one of the coolest parts of the show in my opinion. It’s all pretty entertaining, especially for kids. If you have to choose between Fantasmic and Hollywood Studios’ Galactic Spectacular fireworks show, go with Fantasmic.
Muppetvision 3D (9/10)
Muppetvision 3D is a 3D film that takes place inside a theater. True to Muppet form, it’s a well-executed comedy show. The jokes are clever and it has an altogether good pace. Wait times aren’t a problem, so this one is a good option any time.
Walt Disney Presents… (9/10)
Walt Disney Presents… is a multi-faceted exposition of Walt Disney’s life and the vision he had for his parks. The first part of the attraction has a lot of mementos and artifacts that belonged to Walt or played a role in the development of the Disney company. At the end of the exhibit, you’ll be funneled into a theater that shows a short film about Walt. Overall, the whole attraction is really interesting and provides some extra insight into the man behind the magic. There’s no wait time to speak of and it’s definitely worth seeing at least once.
Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage (8/10)
Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage is an abbreviated retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast film’s story. It’s not spectacular, but it’s still very good for a musical show. The costumes are one of the highlights, with characters like Lumiere and Mrs. Potts. The songs are fun too. Seating typically isn’t a big problem with the show’s large amphitheater.
The Voyage of the Little Mermaid (7/10)
The Voyage of the Little Mermaid is a stage show that tells the Little Mermaid story. It’s a good show, but it’s a bit dated. I wouldn’t make it a top priority, but it’s a good option to fill an empty space during a day at Hollywood Studios.
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (7/10)
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is Hollywood Studios’ new-ish nightly fireworks show. As the name implies, it’s all themed around Star Wars. Music and lights accompany the fireworks to make for a good show, but it’s not quite as spectacular as the nightly shows at Magic Kingdom or Epcot. It’s still a good show, but I prefer to watch Fantasmic if I’m at Hollywood Studios after sundown.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (7/10)
The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is an action stage show. It features all sorts of stunts, from fiery explosions to fights. A director explains how it’s all pulled off as it happens. This one has been around for a while and it’s always entertaining.
By now, it should be pretty clear that Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are two very different experiences. Both have a number of attractions that appeal to a wide range of guests.
Hollywood Studios’ recent and upcoming additions are definitely welcome. I’ve long considered the park to be my least favorite overall Disney World experience and very top-heavy. There are high highs and low lows. On one hand, you’ve got a few of Disney’s best rides. On the other, you’ve got some of the least interesting attractions and food. It’s not that I have ever disliked Hollywood Studios, I just have never found it to have the theme and execution to compete with the others. The new Star Wars portion of the park should go a long way in solving that.
Animal Kingdom has always been a special park. It’s unique in its status as equal parts theme park and zoo. For rides, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and Flight of Passage are three of the best you’ll find on the Disney World property. The general feel and atmosphere of Animal Kingdom is also noteworthy. It’s much more immersive than Hollywood Studios.
There was a time when an argument could be made that both parks were “half day” parks. That may be somewhat true today for Hollywood Studios, but definitely not for Animal Kingdom. AK has so much going on. The addition of Pandora to the park really cemented its status as a full-fledged experience. Hollywood Studios can easily be a full-day park if you are interested in all of its attractions, but I often find myself leaving after doing 3 or 4 rides/shows.
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