It’s been a while since I’ve covered a rope drop and morning touring plan at Animal Kingdom, so I decided to arrive early on National Menu Update Day to see how my morning touring plan without FastPass+ would play out. The answer is somewhat irrelevant as Rivers of Light and the other nighttime enhancements come online in about six weeks. Morning touring shouldn’t change much at all, but my current goal is to figure out a way to make a late arrival work with the show. A lot of touring advice is easy to dispense and difficult to execute and I try to stay away from that kind of grandstanding. An early arrival, followed by a break, and then an evening return should certainly work without difficulty. Personally, I am not a morning person and if possible, I’d like to cut my bus trips in half and show up later in the afternoon and stay through close rather than hurrying out at the crack of dawn. But I don’t want to wait in line very long either. FastPass+ should make such a plan possible though it’s going to depend a lot on how many people stick around late into the night and then how many people Rivers of Light pulls away from other attractions.
Speaking of which, Disney ran a mostly useless live chat concerning Rivers of Light today and the only real useful nugget of information was that they expect the seating capacity for the show to be 5,000 people. That sounds really optimistic to me but some things are larger than they appear from across the water. But theoretically, we should see substantial drops in wait times once the first Rivers show gets underway. The same has been true for years at Hollywood Studios, though Fantasmic often starts right at or 30 minutes after Park close. And at Magic Kingdom, waits are nearly nonexistent at most attractions when the Park stays open until 12am or 1am with Wishes at 9pm or 10pm. So with at least two Rivers of Light shows necessary most nights, we should see Animal Kingdom operating well into the evening, though the last show will certainly start right at Park close or potentially even after. Come June, Rivers of Light will likely be scheduled no earlier than 9pm with a second show following 90 minutes later. That’s late for a lot of families with young kids. You see far more people at a second Fantasmic when it’s at 8pm compared to 10:30pm.
Animal Kingdom has historically emptied out considerably in the afternoon. For years, everyone left after Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade ended. Since that stopped, people typically make it to around 2pm before they start considering heading out. That has changed a bit with FastPass+. If you’re looking at FP+ availability at noon, it’s likely that the openings are going to be later into the afternoon. And people typically book those and then try to figure out what to spend their time on in the interim. At Animal Kingdom, I think people find that waits are short enough that they just get in line earlier in the day and skip their later FastPass+ reservation. That’s less true at the other Parks and once Rivers of Light comes online, it will likely be less true there as people stick around for the nighttime safari and other enhancements.
So we’ll see what happens.
Here at about 8:15am on Tuesday March 1st, there are only about 50 people in attendance outside the main entrance.
8:15am is typically right before a lot of people show up as this is 8:20am and there’s easily 100+ more people.
Just 15 minutes later at 8:35am, the lines extend back past the ticketing windows. This is an every day occurrence as we’re not even talking about heavy crowds for spring break yet.
According to the Animal Kingdom Cheat Sheet, this is what we’re expecting:
On this particular day, we were let in at 8:35am.
Disney tries their darndest to get people to slow down and look at something…anything…in the Oasis, but nobody stops.
Fortunately, Disney no longer tries to hold people at the bridge and then steadily move the rope closer and closer to the Tree of Life for no reason. We can march right up where PhotoPass will already be on hand in front of the Tree.
They were signing people up for Wilderness Explorers first thing, which is a departure from past procedure. There is really no rush as the scavenger hunt is not otherwise staffed until 10am, but you could conceivably pick up a handbook and take your oath firs thing if you are so inclined.
As a reminder, here are the other distribution locations.
A good opportunity to get a picture with your refillable mug.
As described, ropes are set up on both sides of the Tree of Life. For Asia and DinoLand, head right. For Africa, and some day Avatar, head left.
Rope drop at Animal Kingdom is not typically as big of a rush as heading to Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios, or Soarin’/Test Track/Frozen Ever After(?) at Epcot, though reductions in staffing mean most attractions are going to be operating at half capacity and thus, waits are twice as long.
By 9am, the mass of people behind me stretches all the way back across the bridge and into The Oasis. This is why we arrive at 8:15am and not 8:45am.
The horde extends over to the Asia/DinoLand rope. You may notice the macaws flying overhead to the right.
Just prior to the rope dropping, Disney will release a variety of colorful macaws that fly overhead.
You’ll hear more than a few gasps as the brief show of force delights most visitors.
They were running a bit behind and we weren’t on our way until 9:01am. At least for about the last seven months, you’d be on your way closer to 8:45am than 9am. It’s possible that the later rope drop will be more of a thing as Disney schedules fewer cast members to get things ready.
The walk back to Kilimanjaro Safaris is pretty easy.
People filing in behind me.
With truck after truck lined up and ready to be dispatched, just about everybody present at rope drop that wants to ride first thing should be on their way in no more than 15 minutes.
That’s less true with one side operating. Heaven forbid we pay two extra cast members so literally thousands of people wait half as long. Operationally, Disney is famous for stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. And one wonders how intelligent it is to drop billions on what basically amounts to a virtual queuing system only to let Kilimanjaro Safaris standby wait time balloon to 90+ minutes before 11am like it did on this particular day. That’s with well below peak attendance.
This is of course much less of an issue if you’re one of the first couple hundred people to arrive.
I was on my way taking some sick iPad photos by 9:10am:
There’s a serious amount of lighting equipment installed on the safari, almost all of which is hidden.
This early you do see some of the animals being fed breakfast, here in this tree-trunk-looking-thing.
The giraffe was doing a good job of fighting off whatever these are. Somebody might tell them that they have horns. Of course, that may be no match for a 6-foot long neck.
There are some new set pieces that will probably accompany the nighttime storyline. Maybe the poachers are back for round two? I would do almost anything to get Wilson back.
And I was back out front at 9:38am, which is about 15 minutes later than we would expect given an earlier opening. This is basically the plan I’ll be following only with two rides on Everest in place of the ride on Kali since it’s closed:
There are a variety of reasons why you would elect to tour Animal Kingdom without FastPass+ prior to lunch, the most obvious being that you’re planning on using FastPass+ elsewhere. Over at Hollywood Studios, FP+ would save 90 minutes at Toy Story, 60 minutes at Tower of Terror, and 40 minutes at Star Tours. That’s over three hours in line. Using FP+ here at DINOSAUR or Primeval Whirl this early might save 10 or 15 minutes each. I’m going to basically walk on Everest twice in a row shortly, so there’s no use in using FP+ there. You might also elect to use your FP+ at Animal Kingdom either after lunch when you’ll save far more time or after a break. Once Rivers of Light comes online, it would make sense to use FP+ at DINOSAUR, Everest, and the show from 5pm to 8pm or something.
With the reduced capacity, Safaris is already up to 40 minutes before 9:40am. With both sides operating, it wouldn’t be any higher than 20.
9am FastPass+ users don’t help as they take a tremendous amount of capacity away from standby riders. And Disney is still issuing the same number of FastPass+ with the reduced capacity as they would if both sides of the attraction were open. So standby riders are in for some bad news even before 10am.
In unrelated news, Disney seems to be all about that .00 these days. Everything used to be .99. Lunch here is up $4 while the prices for the other meals stayed the same. It’s the same story at Garden Grill, where lunch and dinner are now the same price after lunch went up $4. And the same song and dance at Crystal Palace. With tax, Akershus lunch was $49 with tax back in October. Now it’s $58, the same price as dinner. And yet everyone focuses on ticket prices going up a couple bucks.
On to Expedition Everest via the pathway behind the Tree of Life.
It will be nice to see this area out from behind walls next month for the first time in how long? January 2015 I think?
Everest should still be a pretty easy walk-on this time of morning.
I got in line at 9:51am and took this picture of an unused train right at 9:58am.
The first ride took all of ten minutes.
Oh but don’t worry, Thirsty River Bar is fully staffed at 9am.
The second ride took 14 minutes, which gives a few precious moments to check out the queue.
That puts us back out front right at 10:15am. So that’s two rides in 24 minutes. Not bad at all.
Over to DinoLand USA.
With just one side of Primeval Whirl operating all day, the ride is already up to a 20-minute posted wait with a considerable amount of people in line.
DINOSAUR is still posted at 10, but it’s going to be longer than that. Our cheat sheet touring plan actually has us arriving here at exactly 10:25am with the expectation that the experience will take 30 minutes.
You can see that people are already backed up into the outdoor extended queue, thanks to only one loading dock in use before 10:30am and a constant stream of FP+ users.
Hmmmmm yeah not much luck at f4 even at ISO 51,200. That’s a shutter speed of 1/13.
I was back out front at 10:58am, so the experience took three minutes longer than expected.
After taking some pictures of the new Restaurantosaurus menu, I headed over to Primeval Whirl at 11:07am to what is now a 10-minute posted wait.
I was on board 16 minutes later.
This is probably my favorite attraction to ride with first timers. It’s so terrible.
And back out front at 11:29am for a total experience time of 22 minutes. The Cheat Sheet allots 20.
And finally over to TriceraTop Spin at 11:30am.
On board four minutes later.
And back out front at 11:37am for a total experience time of seven minutes. The Cheat Sheet allots 13 minutes and otherwise sets us down here for lunch at 11:35am. That includes taking pictures of 19 different quick service/restaurant menus.
Overall, things went about how you would expect, though our late start caused us to be delayed getting off Safaris and so many attractions operating at reduced capacities caused some waits that were a little longer than we’d like. As far as morning touring without FastPass+ is concerned, there’s not much we can do about any of that. As far as Animal Kingdom is concerned, the only thing we could do to reduce waits would be to use FP+ at DINOSAUR and potentially Primeval Whirl, where we wouldn’t be saving a heck of a lot of time or waiting until the last 90 minutes of operation to ride.
Hopefully we’ll see some Rivers of Light previews sooner rather than later and we can get going on figuring out how best to see it.
We’ll check out the Shrimp Flatbread at Pizzafari and take a look at other menu updates next.