Wondering whether Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom is the right park for your crew? We’ve got you covered!
Plenty of guests have a hard time deciding whether to spend a day at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom because both are excellent options depending on the experience you’re looking for. It’s a no-brainer to experience both parks if you plan on a full Disney World vacation, but choosing can be difficult for those who only have time for one park.
That’s why we’ve taken a deep dive into each aspect of these parks breaking down everything from rides and attractions to restaurants and snacks. This guide will help you understand exactly which park is the best fit for you!
Table of Contents
Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom: The Short Answer
Magic Kingdom is best for young children, families, and anyone who wants the classic “Disney” theme park experience. Animal Kingdom is best for animals, live stage shows, and outstanding rides. Overall, Magic Kingdom is for those who are looking for a classic fantastical experience, where Animal Kingdom is great for experiences and entertainment centered around nature.
That’s the brief answer. The reality is that both parks have so many things that appeal to all ages and preferences and it’s easy to compare them as both children and adults enjoy them equally.
There is an endless number of things to do at both parks. We’ve broken them up into three sections for you: Rides, Restaurants, and Attractions.
Magic Kingdom vs Animal Kingdom: Rides
WINNER: MAGIC KINGDOM
While Animal Kingdom may have some of the more intense rides you’ll find on property, Magic Kingdom has the numbers. Magic Kingdom has multiple rides for all age groups and thrill levels and provides a more complete ride experience for a full day.
MAGIC KINGDOM’S BEST RIDES
SPACE MOUNTAIN (10/10)
Not only is Space Mountain one of our favorite iconic structures, it’s one of the best rides at Disney World. It’s a dark indoor roller coaster that operates on gravity’s pull. It doesn’t invert, but the track is really quick and there are tons of tight turns. Space Mountain is extremely popular and often sees long wait times, so we insist on FastPasses for this one.
HAUNTED MANSION (10/10)
Everything about Haunted Mansion is classic and it’s a must for anyone. Even though it’s dark and spooky, it’s not too scary for most children. We elaborate a little more on the full ride experience in our post answering, “How Scary is Haunted Mansion?”
SPLASH MOUNTAIN (10/10)
Splash Mountain is a prime example of what a Magic Kingdom ride should be. It’s a log flume ride with a great storyline, great scenes, and a great thrill at the end. The ride length is over 10 minutes, creating a very long and anticipatory experience. Ending with a 50 ft watery drop, this ride is a must-do at Magic Kingdom.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (10/10)
Pirates of the Caribbean is another legendary Disney World dark ride that takes guests through a number of elaborate pirate scenes. It does have a couple of small drops, but the real draw of the ride is the set. This water ride inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which in turn inspired the ride’s renovation. See how many Captain Jack Sparrow’s you can find on the ride.
BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD (9/10)
Big Thunder Mountain is my personal favorite. It is an outdoor roller coaster in Frontierland, featuring a rickety train speeding through caverns and geysers. Like Space Mountain, it doesn’t invert , but the multiple sharp turns can be jolting. They don’t call it “The Wildest Ride in the Wiiilderness” for ‘nothin.
SEVEN DWARVES MINE TRAIN (9/10)
Seven Dwarves Mine Train is one of Magic Kingdom’s newest rides, seeing wait time of over 100 minutes pretty regularly. It’s a happy roller coaster featuring high-tech audio-animatronics of the Seven Dwarves mining for gems, as well as a fun journey through the enchanted forest. It strikes a good balance between thrilling and being tame enough for skittish guests.
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, taking you right inside the world of real African animals on the savanna. You’ll see lions, elephants, giraffes, and 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)
We consider Expedition Everest to be the absolute best roller coaster on Walt Disney property. 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 achieves speeds of up to 60mph and has a 60ft drop. It’s arguably the most intense roller coaster at Disney, with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster right there with it.
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. No worries about waiting in line for this one as the queue is absolutely worth experiencing (although we do highly recommend FastPasses here). The experience simulates a ride on a banshee through the alien world of Pandora. Long story short, this is one of the best simulator-style rides at any theme park, period.
Dinosaur is a dark ride that is sure to shake you up a bit. It takes you on a trip through a dino-infested track back in time. There are animatronic dinosaurs all around, with the highlight being a huge carnotaurus that pops out at the end. 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, sending you down the rapids of Asia in a huge float with eight other guests. 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. It’s a perfect fit for babies, young children and more sensitive guests who aren’t looking to get shaken up on a thrill ride. The ride is a dark water ride through a fluorescent representation of the Avatar world at night. The highlight of the ride is definitely the animatronic Na’vi character that you’ll see singing at the end.
Magic Kingdom vs Animal Kingdom: Entertainment & Attractions
WINNER: MAGIC KINGDOM
Magic Kingdom is full of some of the best entertainment at Walt Disney World Resort. Home to the best fireworks display, along with daily parades, performances and “fastpassable” attractions, it easily wins out over Animal Kingdom.
MAGIC KINGDOM’S BEST ENTERTAINMENT & ATTRACTIONS
HAPPILY EVER AFTER (10/10)
Happily Ever After replaced Wishes as Magic Kingdom’s daily nighttime spectacular. In my opinion, it’s WAY better than Wishes and it’s one of the best fireworks shows I’ve seen at Disney. It’s much more momentous than Wishes was and exceedingly more epic featuring some of Disney movies’ best scores and moments. Happily Ever After has been really well-received and it’s very popular, so viewing space is at a premium.
Get a spot an hour beforehand if you care about your viewing location, snag a reservation at the Crystal Palace to get that prime front porch viewing or invest in one of the fireworks dining or dessert packages.
FESTIVAL OF FANTASY PARADE (9/10)
The Festival of Fantasy Parade is a daily parade that has some of the most elaborate floats we’ve seen. The Tangled float and the Maleficent iron-clad dragon are particularly cool. Find a spot in Frontierland, around the Hub or on Main Street to experience this fantastic parade. There are tons of characters that take part in the show, from princesses to familiar heroes and heroines, so it’s a good way to see them all in one place.
ENCHANTED TALES WITH BELLE (9/10)
Enchanted Tales with Belle is one of the most unique attractions featuring everyone’s favorite characters from Beauty and the Beast. During the show, Belle tells stories with the help of some of the household characters in animatronic form. Audience members will also be chosen to participate in the story. The show’s seating area isn’t too big, so it’s a much more personal experience than a lot of other Disney World shows. Enchanted Tales is also the place to be if you’re looking for a convenient picture with Belle as most shows end with a photo op.
COUNTRY BEAR JAMBOREE (9/10)
Country Bear Jamboree is one of the most entertaining, kitschy and most beloved attractions at Disney. It’s an audio-animatronic show that features a band of musical bears performing a live concert of country music with silly humor. What more could you ask for? This is one of those attractions that you’ve got to do at least once when you go to Disney World, no exceptions.
MICKEY’S PHILHARMAGIC (9/10)
Mickey’s Philharmagic is a short 3D film that focuses on some of the best music from some of the best Disney animated films. Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Peter Pan, and Aladdin are all visited with scenes and music. It’s a great show, especially if you love those films and are seeking a cool reprieve from the hot Florida sun.
MONSTER’S INC. LAUGH FLOOR (9/10)
Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor is an interactive comedy show that pulls random guests into the act. The monsters perform on a big screen at the front and are voiced by live actors in real-time. This means they can make jokes on-the-fly and respond to the crowd, which makes the humor spot-on and changes for each audience. Don’t be surprised if you see yourself up on one of the secondary screens while being harassed by a Pixar character. The jokes are good, but the brilliance of the attraction is definitely the audience interactions.
ONCE UPON A TIME (9/10)
Once Upon a Time is a show that takes place at Cinderella’s Castle after Happily Ever After. It involves projections on the castle, lights, and pyrotechnics. It’s pretty cool to see some of the Disney scenes projected on the castle. Mrs. Potts serves as the storyteller as she tells Chip bedtime stories. The whole thing lasts for about 14 minutes and is easily viewed from anywhere in the Hub.
ANIMAL KINGDOM’S BEST ENTERTAINMENT AND ATTRACTIONS
FESTIVAL OF THE LION KING (10/10)
Festival of the Lion King is comparable to The Lion King on Broadway, with the elaborate costumes and displays, professional singers and dancers, and talented acrobats and performers. 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 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 with added music and lyrics to enhance the performance. 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 the family of gorillas. There are two separate areas to observe them. One area is dedicated to the female gorillas and the babies with an up-close-and-personal glass viewing area. 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 Dug from the Up film. It’s a very entertaining show as Russell co-hosts with an animal expert who showcases one bird at a time, telling the unique things this bird is known for. You’ll see the birds perform tricks and even swoop over your head at one point.
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 plays in a theater underneath the Tree of Life right at the center 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: WE ARE ONE (6/10)
Rivers of Light: We Are One is Animal Kingdom’s alternative to a nightly fireworks show. Everything takes place in the middle of Discovery River in the Asia section. 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, like Fastpasses. This show is easily viewed from anywhere on the banks of Discovery River.
Magic Kingdom vs Animal Kingdom: Restaurants
WINNER: MAGIC KINGDOM
Animal Kingdom has some exquisite options on its top end, but Magic Kingdom has a slight edge due to the number of restaurants and dining experiences available. It’s definitely a hard choice though, as Animal Kingdom’s top few restaurants are arguably as good or better than the top few at Magic Kingdom.
MAGIC KINGDOM’S BEST RESTAURANTS
BE OUR GUEST (10/10)
Be Our Guest is hands down our favorite Magic Kingdom restaurant. The restaurant is themed to be a recreation of the Beauty and the Beast castle. It’s split into three rooms: The Ballroom, The West Wing, and The Castle Gallery. The whole design is extremely well-executed and immersive, making you feel like you’ve been placed inside the movie. The food is outstanding and it’s easily the best you’ll find inside Magic Kingdom. Be Our Guest ranks highly in among our favorite Disney World restaurants for adults and kids will love it too, of course.
CINDERELLA’S ROYAL TABLE (10/10)
Cinderella’s Royal Table is all about the experience and then about the food. It is located inside Magic Kingdom’s legendary castle and is considered a signature fine-dining establishment. During your meal, you’ll be visited by five Disney Princesses. It’s a really cool experience and it’s worth the money for anyone who loves all things Disney and it’s especially awesome for little girls. Even though the food isn’t the main attraction, I’ve never had a bad meal here.
LIBERTY TREE TAVERN (9/10)
Liberty Tree Tavern is not normally on the top of guests’ lists, but it should be highly considered. The whole restaurant, servers included, is themed to be a Colonial American tavern. Liberty Tree serves a full Thanksgiving feast year-round that’s easily shared with the whole table. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the rest.
THE CRYSTAL PALACE (9/10)
The Crystal Palace is a buffet-style restaurant inside a building modeled after a beautiful Victorian greenhouse. It’s one of Magic Kingdom’s classics and the food is always good for a buffet. Crystal Palace big draw is that it features character dining with Winnie the Pooh and the rest of the Hundred Acre Woods gang. Always a reliable spot for a meal with the family.
THE JUNGLE NAVIGATION CO. SKIPPER CANTEEN (7/10)
The Skipper Canteen is one of Magic Kingdom’s newer restaurants. It’s located in Adventureland and its theme is an extension of the classic Jungle River Cruise ride. The menu is more adventurous and “wild” compared to what you’ll find at other Magic Kingdom restaurants. The restaurant’s most notable feature is the “Skippers” that serve you who incorporate the Jungle River Cruise’s awkwardly executed humor into the service.
TONY’S TOWN SQUARE (7/10)
Tony’s Town Square isn’t anything spectacular, but it’s a reliably good, moderately-priced Italian restaurant at the front of Magic Kingdom. It’s themed after the little Italian restaurant from Lady and the Tramp and you’ll find some cues inside (like the central fountain) that point to this. The menu is pretty large and the food is definitely a bump up from standard theme park fare.
MAGIC KINGDOM QUICK-SERVICE RESTAURANTS (8/10)
The quick-service restaurants at Magic Kingdom are a bit top-heavy. On one hand, you have staples like Aloha Isle (which serves the famous Dole Whip). On the other hand, you have some spots that serve pretty bland theme park food. All-in-all, there are some good restaurants for quick food at Magic Kingdom, but there’s an equal number of lackluster ones. Be Our Guest is technically quick-service for breakfast and lunch, which brings the curve way up. Columbia Harbor House, Cosmic Ray’s, and Sleepy Hollow are also worthy entries.
ANIMAL KINGDOM’S BEST RESTAURANTS
Tiffins is one of Animal Kingdom’s newer establishments and the park’s only signature dining restaurant. 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.
SATU’LI CANTEEN (9/10)
Satu’li Canteen is technically a quick-service/counter-service restaurant, but it’s so good we have to mention it. The Canteen is one of my favorite park restaurants and I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve eaten there. Our favorite menu item is the bowls you can build. 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 far better than many in-park quick-service locations.
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. It’s one of our favorite in-park restaurants and it’s a unique atmosphere for an Asian restaurant. It should be appealing to all ages with a range of options and extensive kids menu.
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, especially if you’re in the mood for hearty, flavorful fare. After that, there’s a big drop off. Those three alone are good enough to help Animal Kingdom hold its own though.
Summing it up, Magic Kingdom is probably the clear winner here for those visiting Disney World for the first time or those traveling with small children. However, there are many arguments that Animal Kingdom is better for other guests and parties based on what it has to offer.
Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom both have excellent rides; Magic Kingdom having many rides that are suitable for young kids like Seven Dwarfs, Mad Tea Party and Jungle Cruise, and Animal Kingdom hosting more of the thrills with Everest and Flight of Passage.
Magic Kingdom is home to the most memorable and popular restaurants on property with Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table and the Crystal Palace at the forefront. But you just can’t pass up Tiffin’s Restaurant with it’s divine African and Indian-inspired cuisine in the Animal Kingdom or top-notch quick service at Satu’li Canteen.
Magic Kingdom has the most spectacular attractions, boasting an epic fireworks show in Happily Ever After and the daily Festival of Fantasy Parade, alongside many other shows and experiences. While Animal Kingdom may have a lesser amount of entertainment, almost nothing compares to the Festival of the Lion King.
In conclusion, it’s up to you to determine which is best for your family. We recommend both if it’s possible, as they present very different and enjoyable experiences!
Looking for More Park Comparisons?
We also have comparisons for some of the other parks. Each one goes into the same detail that this guide has.
Still Planning Your Disney World Trip?
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