The Animation Experience at Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
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The Animation Experience Opened On: July 11, 2019.
Location: The Animation Experience takes place inside Conservation Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
If you haven’t recently been out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, then you may be surprised to find that the main entrance to Conservation Station has moved to the far left corner of the building, unless you’re looking for the restrooms, in which case you can use the old entrance straight through the doors.
Rafiki’s Planet Watch is only accessible via the Wildlife Express Train in Africa. You’ll find the train station to the right of the standby and FastPass+ entrances to Kilimanjaro Safaris.
To return to Africa, you’ll board the Wildlife Express Train for your return trip in the same place that it dropped you off. Trains leave every six to ten minutes. The ride in each direction is about eight minutes long. On the way, you’ll pass by some backstage areas and set pieces on your slow-moving, albeit slightly rickety, ride.
Extra Magic Hours: No shows scheduled.
Show Length: 25 to 30 minutes.
Disney typically schedules nine shows, beginning with the 10am show and ending with the 4:45pm show. Showtimes may be adjusted based on expected demand and how late Rafiki’s Planet Watch stays open. Both it and the Wildlife Express Train typically cease operation before dusk. You can pull up exact Animation Experience showtimes at DisneyWorld.com here. Click on the date on the right and then choose the day of your visit from the calendar.
Type: Interactive drawing demonstration.
Similar To: Anyone who remembers the Animation Academy at Hollywood Studios will be familiar with the idea behind the class. Disney offers a similar Animation Academy at Epcot during the International Festival of the Arts.
Requirements: Only your ability to sit for about 25 minutes and follow along with the presenter.
Scary Factor: Only the low quality of dad’s drawing.
When to Go: The Animation Experience is just one piece of what Rafiki’s Planet Watch offers. Most guests will want to visit after lunch, when crowds and wait times have peaked elsewhere. Planet Watch works as an easy-going respite away from the people. Conservation Station is mercifully air-conditioned and the drawing portion of the show is seated and relatively relaxing. Rafiki’s Planet Watch is also home to a number of other exhibits. This includes a petting zoo with a variety of goats and other animals. There’s also the potential that live veterinary operations will be underway in the medial wing of the building. If you’d like a better chance at seeing one of these operations, visit before 11am, when those procedures are more likely to be underway. You may also want to budget 30 to 45 extra minutes to look around, depending on your level of curiosity.
What to Expect:
Most prospective artists hang out around Conservation Station looking at the various exhibits until about 15 minutes before the Animation Experience begins. At that point, people begin streaming into the standby entrance off to the left, and FastPass+ entry on the right.
In an effort to increase capacity, Disney has placed the padded chairs with backs close together.
At each seat, a cast member will place a clipboard with a piece of paper with the drawing guidelines already printed in light blue. The Animal Kingdom and Animation Experience logos run along the bottom.
The presentation begins with a brief introduction to Walt Disney and the importance of hand-drawn animation.
You’ll also learn a little bit about how studying animals and their natural movements and behaviors influenced Disney animators and their creations over the years.
A live presenter will guide you through the animation process.
Classes throughout the day feature different characters, so you may inquire as to the schedule if you’re interested in participating in more than one experience. The characters typically follow a theme. The “live-action” version of The Lion King came out in theaters on the same day that The Animation Experience debuted. Characters from the movie dominated the classes for several months. Then, Disney changed course and began featuring Disney villains.
During my most recent class, we drew Hopper from A Bug’s Life.
You may be surprised by how easy it is to follow along with the drawing, even with minimal artistic talent.
Screens around the room show what the animator is drawing in real time.
Here’s my fledgling attempt about two-thirds of the way through the demonstration.
The presenter will dedicate about 15 minutes of the show to drawing.
And at the end, you’ll have a nice souvenir to take home with you, even if your bug sort of resembles a helicopter more than a grasshopper.
If you have kids that may be a little less interested in line drawings and a little more interested in coloring all over the sheet of paper with crayons, then you’ll find tables in the back of the seating section that can accommodate them, with bowls of crayons. You can grab a clipboard and see about following along with the class from back there as well.
Where to Sit: The monitors make it easy to follow along with the animation process from just about any seat, but I’d try to sit towards the center, where you’ll be able to see the instructor throughout the presentation. This lends a little more personality to the experience.
FastPass+: Yes, most shows offer FastPass+. However, you’ll very rarely need to use one as there are typically plenty of seats. Cast typically seat guests in the far right section first. After that section is filled, they’ll begin seating guests arriving later towards the middle. Thus, guests seated early with FastPass+ won’t necessarily have their pick of the best seats. Because show capacity is relatively limited compared to other theater shows that seat thousands, FP+ availability for the Animation Experience is more limited. FastPass+ will “sell out” for most shows leading up to a given date.
4th FastPass+ Availability: While supply is limited, people constantly cancel The Animation Experience after realizing what it is and how much time it will take to get out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. You may not initially see availability, but shows will become available on the day-of as people cancel/change their plans to attend the show more often than a lot of other attractions. After using your initial three pre-booked FastPass+, you might book a 4th or 5th FP+ for The Animation Experience just to make sure that you do get in. Still, it’s unlikely present at showtime won’t be accommodated. If it’s a particularly busy day, you can simply enter the standby queue 15 minutes before the show starts. You’ll be fine.
What You Miss Using FastPass+: Only your ability to use FastPass+ elsewhere, where it will likely save more time.
Total Average Experience Time with FastPass+: About 40 minutes, assuming you arrive ten minutes before showtime.
When to Arrive: Getting to The Animation Experience requires a few steps. First, you’ll need to walk to the Harambe Train Station in the Africa section of the Park. Next, you’ll need to wait for the Wildlife Express Train and then take it over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Then, it’s time to walk back to the Conservation Station and find the entrance to the show.
Plan to be in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom at least 40 minutes before the start of the Animation Experience show that you’d like to see. That gives you ten minutes to wait for and board the Wildlife Express, eight minutes to ride it over, five minutes to walk to Conservation Station, and at least ten minutes to look around before it’s time to find your seat. You can push your arrival in Africa closer to 30 minutes before showtime. You’ll run a higher risk of arriving late, though.
Josh’s Take: Many people missed the old Animation Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Animation Experience at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a worthy successor, even if the subject of the class doesn’t fit in quite as neatly at a zoological theme park versus what used to be an actual production studio. The animal tie-in helps, particularly when your task is drawing Simba or another character where you can see the real life version somewhere in the Park.
With little interest in drawing, or with limited time, the Animation Experience is not an integral part of most people’s visits to Animal Kingdom, but it’s certainly a nice respite from the heat and crowds, and a good excuse to head out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. You’ll need to budget about 90 minutes for the whole process. Other than the time commitment, the barrier to entry is so low that it’s worth checking out.
Disney doesn’t provide a cardboard tube or any other way to protect your drawing. You may consider bringing a folder or some other mechanism to keep the paper from wrinkling. Disney also conveniently offers this frame for $40 at the show’s exit.