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Animal Kingdom vs Magic Kingdom: Theme Park Showdown

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World can be overwhelming with 4 theme parks to choose from, each with unique attractions and experiences.

If you’re stuck between Animal Kingdom vs Magic Kingdom, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

In this comparison guide, I’ll help you decide which park to visit based on various factors such as transportation, rides, food, character experiences, parades, nighttime shows or fireworks, and special events.

So, let’s dive in and discover which park deserves your time and attention!

Transportation & parking

When it comes to transportation, Magic Kingdom definitely takes the lead with multiple forms of free transportation to and from resorts and other parks.

Depending on where you’re starting from or going to, your options include buses, ferry boats, and the fan-favorite monorail.

While the ferry boats can be slower than other forms of transportation, who doesn’t love a gentle scenic ride across the Seven Seas Lagoon?

Animal Kingdom, on the other hand, relies on buses, which can be time-consuming and crowded at peak times. As of right now, it does not have other forms of free transportation.

But perhaps it will in the future (I’m crossing my fingers for Skyliner access!).

Lastly, both parks have ample parking. Although I find the parking situation at Magic Kingdom to be more of a hassle since you have to deal with the monorail, I still think it wins out over Animal Kingdom in this category.

Early entry and rope drop

Rope Drop refers to the moment when the park officially opens to the public. It can be an exciting experience, especially if you’re an early bird, or absolutely dreadful, especially if you’ve been wanting to sleep in.

Both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom offer early entry to guests of Disney resorts and select neighboring resorts.

This allows guests to enter the park before the official opening and enjoy exclusive access to select attractions.

Both parks have rides that nearly always have a ridiculously long line over an hour, sometimes more than two hours.

So in this case, participating in early entry or rope drop can be a really good strategy for avoiding super long lines without having to buy Genie+.

That said, if you’re like me and want to sleep in a bit, Genie+ is going to be the best way to get all your favorite rides in sans-wait at both parks.

Overall, I think the early entry and rope drop experience at Animal Kingdom is far less chaotic and also not a must-do (which means you can sleep in) to experience as much as possible. Therefore, it wins in this category.

Rides and attractions

Both parks have their share of family-friendly and thrilling options.

Magic Kingdom is famous for classics like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, while Animal Kingdom boasts the popular Avatar ride (aka Flight of Passage), Expedition Everest, and Kilimanjaro Safaris.

If you’re visiting with young kids, Magic Kingdom is likely going to be your best bet for rides. They have a wider variety that suites all ages, even toddlers! Plus you’ll be able to meet all the classic Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse and the princesses.

On the other hand, Animal Kingdom has a lot of unique rides, although most of them are best for older kids or adults. They do have a few good shows for all ages, like Festival of the Lion King, though!

But, you’re here for my opinion, and between the two, I like the attractions at Animal Kingdom better. It feels more chill and a better mix of ride types.

Food and drink

Believe it or not, Disney World is a foodie’s paradise! Both parks offer a fantastic selection of dining options ranging from quick bites to sit-down meals and even character meals.

Magic Kingdom has unique dining experiences such as Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table, which is a character dining experience featuring princesses. There are also several places you can get the iconic Dole Whip soft serve.

Animal Kingdom, on the other hand, boasts the wildly popular Satu’li Canteen, featuring delicious bowls with unique flavors and ingredients inspired by the movie, Avatar.

It also has Tusker House, a fun character dining experience featuring Donald Duck and other classic characters.

In my opinion, the variety and quality of food at Animal Kingdom is better. You’ll find more unique options, as well as more cuisines represented.

At Magic Kingdom, the majority of the food options are pretty bland and you really have to look hard for the unique and fun food options.

Character experiences

Disney World is known for its amazing character experiences and both parks offer plenty of opportunities to meet your favorite characters.

Magic Kingdom has more traditional characters like Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Belle, while Animal Kingdom has unique Disney characters like Kevin from Up, Flick from A Bug’s Life, and Moana.

That said, Animal Kingdom has pulled back a lot of their character meet-and-greet experiences in the past few years, replacing them with flotillas that go down the Discovery River.

It’s cute, but not as fun as being able to hug your favorite character, get their autograph, and pose for a picture.

And for that reason, Magic Kingdom excels when it comes to character experiences.


Photo of Stitch, Mary Poppins, Max, and other characters at the end of the Adventure Friends Character Calvacade.
Photos by Meg Frost, all rights reserved.

Magic Kingdom hosts 2 spectacular parades, both worth watching.

Their main parade, the Festival of Fantasy Parade, featuring Disney characters, floats, dancing, and music. It’s a lively and colorful experience that can thrill anyone, both young and old.

The Adventure Friends Cavalcade is smaller, but features tons of characters, many of whom are walking and will great viewers, rather than being stuck on floats.

Animal Kingdom, on the other hand, doesn’t host a daily parade at the moment.

In the past they had Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade, which was super fun and more intimate than either of Magic Kingdom’s parades, so I hope they’ll bring it back in the near future.

Given that Magic Kingdom is the only park with parades, it automatically wins in this category!

Nighttime shows and fireworks

Magic Kingdom puts on a mind-blowing fireworks display, Happily Ever After, a show that combines classic Disney music, animated projections, and pyrotechnics.

Animal Kingdom, however, doesn’t offer a nighttime show at the moment.

In the past it had Rivers of Light: We Are One, which featured floating lanterns, water screens, and live performances celebrating nature and its wonders.

The show was stunning and I truly hope they bring it back – or at least something similar. As much as I love fireworks that can be viewed from anywhere, I really enjoyed this sit-down performance!

Magic Kingdom wins yet again by default, since Animal Kingdom doesn’t offer anything in this category.

Gift shops and souvenirs

Both parks have a handful of good souvenir shops available. Originally I would have said that Animal Kingdom has a slight edge thanks to the adopt-a-banshee experience at Windtraders.

However, the opening of TRON Lightcycle Run introduced the TRON Identity Program experience, where guests can buy an interactive action figure.

The rest of the gift shops at both parks offer your standard souvenirs, like t-shirts, pins, Minnie ears, and so on.

That said, one of the most frustrating souvenir experiences is not being able to find a must-have item in your size or preferred color.

And you know where you can often go to get what you’re looking for? Animal Kingdom! For this reason alone, I’m giving the edge to Animal Kingdom.

Special events

Closeup of a Christmas wreath decoration at Magic Kingdom.
Photo by Meg Frost, all rights reserved.

Lastly, here’s another category in which Magic Kingdom wins by default, as Animal Kingdom doesn’t offer any special events.

Magic Kingdom has Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, along with its generic, non-themed After Hours events. I highly recommend attending their holiday extra-ticketed events; it’s well worth the cost!

It makes sense that Animal Kingdom doesn’t have any late-night special events, as it is likely too disturbing for the animals, though.

Beacons of Magic

As part of Disney World’s 50th anniversary, Disney branded each park’s icon as a “beacon of magic.”

Magic Kingdom has Cinderella’s Castle, while Animal Kingdom has the Tree of Life.

Both icons are a must-see, with many guests wanting photos of and with these in the background.

The Tree of Life is stunning, although not a real tree. Nonetheless, its animal carvings in the trunk and projections in the evening are quite beautiful. Plus It’s Tough to Be a Bug takes place in the roots of the tree – how fun!

Cinderella’s Castle takes the cake in my opinion, though. 

One could argue it’s the main beacon of magic since Magic Kingdom was the first park at Disney World.

Plus, the castle is the first thing you see when you enter the park and serves as a backdrop for stage shows and fireworks.

It is also home to Cinderella’s Royal Table, a princess-themed character dining experience, as well as Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where kids can get Fantasyland-style makeovers.

Lastly, there is a hidden suite inside that most guests don’t know about because it’s not open to reservations. However, every once in a while, Disney opens it up for a contest, with one lucky winner getting the rare chance to stay the night.

Now that’s a true beacon of magic!

When it comes to Animal Kingdom vs Magic Kingdom, which park is your favorite?

Let’s go over the winner of each category we looked at:

  • Transportation & parking: Animal Kingdom
  • Early entry & rope drop: Animal Kingdom
  • Rides & attractions: Animal Kingdom
  • Food & drink: Animal Kingdom
  • Character experiences: Magic Kingdom
  • Parades: Magic Kingdom
  • Nighttime shows & fireworks: Magic Kingdom
  • Gift shops & souvenirs: Animal Kingdom
  • Special events: Magic Kingdom
  • Beacons of Magic: Magic Kingdom

Looking at the winners of each category, it’s a tie! If you haven’t decided by now which park is best for you, I recommend going back to take a look at the categories that mean the most to you to help you decide.

Overall, I think Magic Kingdom is best for young kids and first-time visitors. However, foodies and wildlife lovers will enjoy Animal Kingdom more.

Don’t stress out too much when trying to decide, though. Both parks offer unique, magical experiences that you’ll cherish for a lifetime!

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 14, 2023. It was last updated on March 10, 2023.