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Animal Kingdom Vs Hollywood Studios: Theme Park Showdown

Walt Disney World in Florida is an amusement park fan’s dream come true. With four parks to choose from, each with its unique attractions and magical experiences, it can be hard to determine which park to visit.

In this post, I compare and contrast Animal Kingdom vs Hollywood Studios to help you decide which park to visit or prioritize on your next visit.

Among the topics discussed are transportation, early entry, rides and attractions, parades, nighttime shows, character experiences, food and drink, souvenirs, beacons of magic, and special events.

Transportation & parking

When it comes to transportation, Hollywood Studios has the edge thanks to its Skyliner station and ferry service.

Both parks are car-friendly with ample parking and have bus transportation to and from resorts and other parks.

That said, if you’re visiting from out of state and haven’t rented a car, the lack of variety of transportation options at Animal Kingdom can make it a bit of a frustrating experience with long lines.

Whereas at Hollywood Studios, people can disperse amongst the 3 transportation options, which helps lighten the load a bit.

Early entry and after hours

Both parks offer early entry to guests of Disney resorts and select neighboring hotels, with different tips and tricks required when visiting each of them.

In my opinion, taking advantage of early entry is a good idea for both theme parks, as they are both packed with a handful of big ticket rides and attractions.

Get there about an hour or at minimum, 30 minutes, ahead of early entry time. Cast members are known to open the gates earlier than the stated time, plus you can position yourself ahead of other guests in line.

If you’re at the beginning of the line to get in, you’ll be amongst the first on your desired ride and can then hop over to another popular ride with a short wait.

It’s really just a way to maximize your time and limit wait as much as possible while getting in as many your fave rides and attractions – even without the use of Genie+!

In my opinion, the early entry and rope drop experience at Animal Kingdom is far superior to Hollywood Studios. It’s less chaotic, mainly because it’s not entirely necessary, which means you can sleep in and you won’t miss out.

At Hollywood Studios, however, taking advantage of early entry and rope drop is pretty much necessary if you want to get to everything without paying a ton extra for Genie+ and individual lightning lanes.

Rides and attractions

This is a tough call to make! Both parks have some really cool rides across the spectrum, from fun and family-friendly to thrilling experiences.

Hollywood Studios is king when it comes to Star Wars and Toy Story, whereas Animal Kingdom has Avatar, plus wildlife and nature-focused attractions.

As much as I adore Animal Kingdom’s attractions, I do think it could use more rides. So I’m going to give the win to Hollywood Studios, which is packed with rides and shows from a variety of Disney, Pixar, and Star Wars realms.

But, if you’re hesitant, here’s a list of the top 10 attractions at each park so you can determine which one is of more interest to you.

Animal Kingdom rides and attractions

  1. The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
  2. Avatar: Flight of Passage
  3. Expedition Everest
  4. Festival of the Lion King
  5. Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond!
  6. Kali River Rapids
  7. Kilimanjaro Safari
  8. Maharajah Jungle Trek
  9. Na’vi River Journey
  10. Wilderness Explorers experience

Hollywood Studios rides and attractions

  1. Fantasmic!
  2. For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Celebration
  3. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  4. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
  5. Pixar Place meet-and-greets
  6. Rise of the Resistance
  7. Rock n Roller Coaster
  8. Slinky Dog Dash
  9. Tower of Terror
  10. Toy Story Mania

Food and drink

Both parks have a good mix of classic theme park staples like popcorn, funnel cake, and burgers, as well as fun and inventive options.

Animal Kingdom has some fun food and drink in Pandora – World of Avatar, such as cheeseburger pods, Satuli bowls, and the iconic night blossom slushy.

There are also several options offering American BBQ, African, and Asian inspired dishes.

Over at Hollywood Studios, the food options at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge are out of this world. The Black Caf cold brew coffee is a personal fave, as well as the Ronto Wraps.

The options in Toy Story Land are also super fun. I love the lunch box tarts at Woody’s Lunch Box, which are kind of like homemade Pop Tarts.

Overall, I think Animal Kingdom has a better selection of food between the two. There are tons of unique and inventive snacks and drinks, but also plenty of classic stuff for those with less adventurous taste buds.

Character experiences

When it comes to character experiences, which is best depends on which characters you’re interested in meeting.

If you’re into Star Wars or Pixar characters, Hollywood Studios wins without a doubt!

Characters from The Incredibles (including my fave, Edna Mode) and Monsters Inc. at Pixar Place, while characters from Toy Story meet inside Toy Story Land.

At Star Wars Launch Bay, you can meet Chewbacca, while other characters meet up at Galaxy’s Edge.

Check the My Disney Experience app for meet-and-greet times at Galaxy’s Edge, as there isn’t a permanent spot for all of them.

Animal Kingdom is just starting to beef up their character meet-and-greets again.

Currently there are permanent meet-and-greet spots for Mickey & Minnie (in safari gear) and Moana, as well as Chip & Dale and Donald Duck.

Sometimes there are random encounters with other characters like Kevin from Up, so check the My Disney Experience app to see if any of your faves are scheduled to make an appearance.

Lastly, some characters you can’t meet, but they make an appearance on flotillas (parade float like boats) on the Discovery River.

This usually includes Pocahontas, Russell & Dug from Up, Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad McQuack, Goofy, and Pluto.

Since there are more chances to meet and hug characters at Hollywood Studios, the win goes to that park. But if Animal Kingdom were to expand their offering, it could switch!

Parades and calvacades

Neither theme park has a parade or calvacade at the moment, so neither park wins in this category!

Both parks have had parades and calvacades in the past, so I hope they’ll bring something back in the future. I feel like it’s such a mainstay feature of a theme park!

Anyway, if you’re in the mood for parades, head to Magic Kingdom instead of one of these 2 parks.

Nighttime shows

Photo of Mulan in a fight scene during Fantasmic!
Photo by Matt Stroshane, courtesy of Disney.

Hollywood Studios has the advantage when it comes to the night show experience, mainly because there isn’t currently a nighttime show at Animal Kingdom.

Hollywood Studios on the other hand, has two: Fantasmic! and Wonderful World of Animation.

Fantasmic! is a stunning show that features our favorite Disney characters, fireworks, and special effects.

It takes place in a dedicated outdoor stage with stadium seating, which is perfect for resting your feet before trudging back to your resort for some sleep!

Personally, Fantasmic! is my favorite nighttime show out of all the parks!

New at Hollywood Studios is the Wonderful World of Animation, a 12-minute show that celebrates Disney and Pixar animation.

The show is projected onto the same building where Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is located. It’s typically only shown once per night, although perhaps that will increase during the busy Summer season.

Gift shops and souvenir experiences

Photo of a young girl holding a blue lightsaber and a man at Savi's Workshop in Hollywood Studios.
Photo by Matt Stroshane, courtesy of Disney.

Animal Kingdom has some great souvenirs and gift shops where you can get all the typical Disney park souvenirs, like pins, shirts, hats, and so on.

One of their special souvenirs can be found at the Rookery inside Windtraders at Pandora – World of Avatar, where you can adopt a banshee.

Hollywood Studios also has plenty of shops with classic souvenirs. There are 2 interactive souvenir experiences that Star Wars fans will want to check out, though.

At Savi’s Workshop, you can build your own lightsaber, while at the Droid Depot, you can build your own droid. Both are super fun, but perhaps only of interest to Star Wars fans.

So when it comes to which park has the best gift shops and souvenir experiences, it depends on which special experience you’re interested in.

But, since I have to compare the two, I’m going to go with Hollywood Studios because they have more special options for souvenirs compared to Animal Kingdom.

Special events

Right now Hollywood Studios is the only park between the two that has special events.

The main special event is its After Hours event, which limits the number of guests and provides access to most rides, attractions, shops, and such after regular park hours.

New in 2023 was the addition of Jollywood Nights, a Christmas-themed separately ticketed after-hours party.

Hollywood Studios has had some other cool special events in the past, such as Villains After Hours and Star Wars Weekends, so here’s to hoping they’ll bring them back or step it up with new experiences.

Animal Kingdom did as well (the 5K runDisney nighttime obstacle course comes to mind), but it no longer does many nighttime events or hours to help protect the animals that reside there.

Beacons of Magic

Each theme park at Walt Disney World is easily identified by an iconic “beacon of magic,” as Disney calls them.

At Hollywood Studios, it’s the Hollywood Tower Hotel aka Tower of Terror, while at Animal Kingdom, it’s the Tree of Life.

The Tower of Terror is a thrill ride with a really fun and spooky pre-show.

But in my opinion, the Tree of Life is more magical. It’s home to It’s Tough to Be a Bug! (soon to be a Zootopia-themed show), plus it often has seasonal projections on it at night. Not to mention it makes for an iconic photo!

When it comes to Animal Kingdom vs Hollywood Studios, which one will you choose?

Let’s go over the winner in each category again:

  • Transportation & parking: Hollywood Studios
  • Early entry & rope drop: Animal Kingdom
  • Rides & attractions: Hollywood Studios
  • Food & drink: Animal Kingdom
  • Character experiences: Hollywood Studios
  • Parades: Neither!
  • Nighttime shows & fireworks: Hollywood Studios
  • Souvenirs & gift shops: Hollywood Studios
  • Special events: Hollywood Studios
  • Beacons of Magic: Animal Kingdom

Going by this summary, Hollywood Studios is the clear winner against Animal Kingdom.

That said, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are so different from one another that deciding which one to visit or prioritize can be a matter of personal preference.

If you’re a foodie or animal lover, definitely head to Animal Kingdom, as it will appeal more to you than Hollywood Studios.

However, if you’re a Star Wars fan or obsessed with Toy Story and other Pixar pals, Hollywood Studios is an absolute must-visit for you.

In the end, no matter which park you choose, it’s sure to be a magical experience that you won’t forget any time soon.

Next up, check out the rest of the Theme Park Showdown posts for help planning your trip.

  1. Animal Kingdom vs Magic Kingdom
  2. Hollywood Studios vs Epcot
  3. Epcot vs Animal Kingdom
  4. Magic Kingdom vs Hollywood Studios
  5. Epcot vs Magic Kingdom

About the author

Photo of Meg Frost on Buzz Lightyear: Space Ranger Blast at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Photo by Meg Frost, All rights reserved.

Meg Frost is the creator of The Park Pixie, where she covers Disney World, Disney+, and Disney fandom.

She holds an M.A. in Journalism from Northeastern University and B.S. in Communication & American Studies from University of Miami in Florida.

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This post was originally published on May 16, 2023. It was last updated on March 9, 2024.