Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life and EPCOT's Spaceship Earth

Animal Kingdom vs EPCOT: Which is Best for Your Family?

You made the big decision to go to Disney World, and your family is excited beyond belief. Your kids talk about the upcoming trip non-stop. 

The rules of human nature demand that you squeeze as many experiences out of the trip as possible. Budget weighs heavy on your mind, but your heart desperately wants your kids to see more than one of the four major parks. Magic Kingdom is a given—the name says it all. You must choose a second park from Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios.

After narrowing your choices to EPCOT and Animal Kingdom, you face another critical decision. They both look fantastic, so what should you do? Let’s analyze Animal Kingdom vs EPCOT so you can realize your dream vacation.

Initial Thoughts

Posing for a picture in front of a giraffe in Animal Kingdom
A giraffe feeds in the background in Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

I have visited many theme parks in my life. Disney is the best at transporting you from reality to fantasy. From the themed foods to the characters, shows, and props, each park section is so unique that it feels like another world. That is why we have regularly visited Disney World for three decades, from when our four children were in strollers until they were grown adults.

Please do not stress that you could make the wrong decision. Based on your kids’ interests and ages, one park will likely better suit your family. However, with such immersive experiences in each park, you will have a blast no matter where you visit. 

With that said, let’s dig into the nuances of each park.

Which Opened First, EPCOT or Animal Kingdom?

The Miles with McConkey kids pose for a photo in EPCOT
The Miles with McConkey kids in EPCOT many years ago. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

This variable is likely more of a curiosity than a critical factor for most travelers. However, some guests may want the most modern park, while others seek a throwback experience.

EPCOT opened its gates on October 1, 1982, the second central theme park in Disney World after Magic Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom first welcomed guests on April 22, 1998. It is the newest of Disney World’s four major parks.

Theme

Pandora at night
Bioluminescent effects in Pandora at night. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

As the name implies, Animal Kingdom honors Earth’s animal life and educates the public about conservation efforts. The park especially spotlights fauna in Africa and Asia. 

Animal Kingdom is a must-visit park if you are an animal lover or a fan of The Lion King or Avatar films. One of the most popular attractions is Kilimanjaro Safaris, which feels like a drive-through zoo where you can get close views of many exotic animals.

Between the characters, shows, merchandise, and themed foods, fans of The Lion King will find plenty of nods to the film. The Pandora section is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen in a theme park. Otherworldly plants, floating islands, and nighttime bioluminescent effects transport you to another world.

EPCOT is short for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Yes, that is a mouthful. The park honors human achievement, particularly in technological innovation and international culture. If your kids love science or are fascinated with foreign cultures, EPCOT is your park. 

The World Showcase comprises pavilions highlighting the culture and food of various nations. While it is a learning experience, the park’s unique exhibits, food, and rides also provide plenty to entertain your family.

Park Landmarks

Animal Kingdom's landmark - Tree of Life and EPCOT's landmark - Spaceship Earth
Two of the Miles with McConkey kids pose in front of the Animal Kingdom and EPCOT landmarks. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

EPCOT’s iconic landmark, Spaceship Earth, resembles a giant golf ball. The flagship attraction is a slow-moving ride through history, from the Stone Age to the Computer Age. 

Animal Kingdom’s centerpiece is the Tree of Life. While you cannot ride it, your family can search for over 300 animals carved into the tree, a real-world look-and-find game.

Which Park is Larger?

crocodile topiary in EPCOT
Peter Pan fans posing with the Crocodile topiary in EPCOT. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Animal Kingdom is Disney World’s most extensive park, spanning 580 acres. Much of the park is occupied by animal enclosures and undeveloped land. Although Animal Kingdom is technically the biggest park of the four, EPCOT requires the most walking. 

EPCOT covers 305 acres, more than twice the space of Magic Kingdom. To complete a full lap of EPCOT’s World Showcase, you must walk 1.2 miles. 

Consider the walking distance if your family includes infants, toddlers, or preschoolers. Carrying a small child or pushing a stroller may not sound daunting, but I can attest that the simple task gets tiring in the Florida heat while standing and walking amongst thousands of other visitors.

Which Park is the Cheapest?

Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom
Flight of Passage ride queue. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

While ticket prices vary throughout the year based on expected daily crowd levels, Animal Kingdom tickets are typically $5 to $10 less than those at EPCOT. If you have decided to splurge on a dream vacation, I would not let ticket price be a primary factor when choosing between two parks. However, Animal Kingdom will save you a few bucks on tickets.

Rides

A lion sleeps in Animal Kingdom while guests pose for a picture in EPCOT
Kilimanjaro Safaris vs Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Each park offers unique, well-themed rides that are also very fun. Your family’s interest in a particular Disney film or character may influence your decision. 

If you are a fan of the Avatar film series, Animal Kingdom has one of the best rides across all four parks with Avatar Flight of Passage. The 3D flight simulator takes you through Pandora’s surreal landscapes. Other highlights include Expedition Everest, a thrilling roller coaster, and Kilimanjaro Safaris, akin to a drive-through zoo.

If you are a Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy fan, you must visit EPCOT. One of the newest rides in Disney World, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, potentially delivers a different experience each time you ride. 

While not thrill rides, Soarin’ Around the World and Spaceship Earth always draw a smile. Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure are fun rides that will indeed please fans of either namesake film.

The bottom line is that if your kids love Guardians of the Galaxy, Frozen, or Ratatouille, EPCOT offers the best rides for you. For those who love Avatar or animals, you will enjoy the Animal Kingdom rides.

Food

Food from Animal Kingdom and EPCOT
A customizable bowl from Sa’tuli Canteen in Animal Kingdom and frushi from EPCOT’s Flower and Garden Festival. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Let’s be clear. Both parks offer excellent food choices. I have sampled many dishes from each and always walk away with a smile. 

Animal Kingdom features Avatar-themed dishes and Asian and African fare. Julie and I love the Sa’tuli Canteen’s customizable bowls and steamed pods so much we eat there every time we visit the park. We are also fond of Flametree Barbecue and the Pan-Asian fast food from Yak & Yeti. 

I must give the food and beverages nod to EPCOT due to the wide variety of choices throughout the World Showcase. Whether you are in the mood for Mexican, Italian, Canadian, or German cuisine, EPCOT has you covered. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can find quick service and seated dining options in many countries, including France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. 

Now that our kids are adults, they look forward to “eating and drinking around the world” as we go through the World Showcase. We love hanging out in the British pub, savoring hot fish and chips with a brew or cider. 

Then, we dart to France to satisfy Julie’s sweet tooth (okay, mine too) with a mouthwatering crepe. Of course, the day is only complete with a refreshing margarita and a spicy taco from Mexico. You get the idea. Your choices are practically endless.

Standard American fare is available for youngsters and picky eaters. Older children and adults will appreciate EPCOT’s variety. For something different, you can experience what eating in outer space is like at the Space 220 Restaurant.

During seasonal celebrations, EPCOT rolls out many additional foods and drinks to sample. It is nearly impossible to try them all unless you are a local or spend an entire week in the park.

Characters

Characters in Animal Kingdom and EPCOT
Kevin in Animal Kingdom and Pluto and Minnie Mouse in EPCOT. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

When our kids were younger, they had to meet the Disney characters. It was so essential that rides took a back seat. If your children are passionate about the characters, you must know who you may encounter in each park. Note that character lineups can change, and surprise sightings occasionally happen.

Classic Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, and Chip’ n’ Dale regularly hang out at Animal Kingdom. The Lion King’s Rafiki and Timon also frequent the park, and guests typically spot Pocahontas. 

Fans of the film Up will be delighted to hear Russell and Dug are often sighted. During our last visit, we were surprised to see Kevin. The giant tropical bird is a hoot. 

Traditional Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Chip’ n’ Dale, and Winnie the Pooh frequently hang out in EPCOT. The park is ideal for fans of the Disney princesses and heroines. Familiar female characters include Alice in Wonderland, Ariel, Belle, Anna, Elsa, Jasmine, Joy, Mary Poppins, Moana, Mulan, and Vanellope. 

You may encounter cult favorites Figment or Wreck-it Ralph. We have spotted other princesses and Tigger in EPCOT. Keep your eyes open as you explore the park. You never know when or where you may spot a character.

Annual Events

topiaries at Epcot flower and garden festival
Julie poses with Toy Story topiaries in EPCOT. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

EPCOT gets the edge with its annual special celebrations, which offer unique decor, food, and beverages. The Festival of the Arts occurs from mid-January to mid-February. 

One of our favorites is the Flower and Garden Festival, which runs from late February to late May. The park displays fragrant blooms and beautiful topiaries resembling iconic Disney characters. If you enjoy flower festivals, you should attend the celebration at least once in your lifetime.

Another family favorite is the Food and Wine Festival, which runs from late July to mid-November. It is a fun and easy way to sample concoctions from across the globe. For those who love holiday celebrations, EPCOT holds its Festival of Holidays from late November to late December.

Animal Kingdom offers no special celebrations with the pomp and circumstance of those in EPCOT. While it is unnecessary to attend a Disney park during a festival to have a good time, some guests may want a unique experience of a seasonal festival. If this applies to you, EPCOT is your park.

Age of Your Kids

The Miles with McConkey kids eating crepes in EPCOT
Picture quality has improved through the years but the EPCOT crepes have always been delicious. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Each person and family is unique. Not all kids share the same interests because of their age or stage of development. However, I can share our experiences through the years as guidance. 

When our kids were younger, they found EPCOT boring. They did not care to learn about different countries or try new foods. 

I do not doubt that our kids would have been more excited to visit EPCOT had the Frozen and Ratatouille attractions been available then. The park currently has such a variety that you should find something that will appeal to all ages.

In their teens and adulthood, our kids preferred to explore EPCOT to learn about other cultures and sample new foods (and drinks). It became an unofficial rite of passage.

At younger ages, our kids adored animals and happily visited Animal Kingdom. They lit up at the sight of animals and Disney characters. Now that they are older, they appreciate animals but look most forward to riding Avatar Flight of Passage and Expedition Everest.

Additional Considerations

Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT
EPCOT during the Flower and Garden Festival. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Here are some other items to consider when comparing Animal Kingdom vs EPCOT. I notice Florida’s heat and humidity much more in Animal Kingdom. With so many restaurants and exhibits throughout EPCOT, you have more opportunities to escape the heat. 

We typically cover the highlights of Animal Kingdom in half a day, whereas EPCOT requires more time to see everything. A visit to Animal Kingdom will give you more time to relax or plan something else for the other half of the day.

I love theme parks at night. They have a different vibe and more energy. EPCOT regularly has longer park hours, which enhances the night experience. Animal Kingdom’s hours may be better if you have young children. Otherwise, you can extend the family fun in EPCOT.

Decision Time

Japan Pavilion in EPCOT
The Miles with McConkey crew at the Japan Pavilion in EPCOT’s World Showcase. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

I hope you find our guide helpful when comparing Animal Kingdom and EPCOT. We have many fond memories of both parks, from when our kids were in strollers until they were adults. While both parks are fantastic, each offers a unique experience. Regardless of which park you choose, enjoy your magical vacation.

Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey

Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey

Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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