Animal Kingdom Pandora Rope Drop Touring Strategy Round Two – 6/11/17

After what was a poor outing during our last Animal Kingdom rope drop (with Part Two here), we return with a vengeance. Because, after all, there’s nothing that we can’t achieve together, so long as we have 15 MagicBands to split between the two of us. Here at 6:35am, bag check hasn’t even begun. It’s too early for them. It’s too early for me.

No rest for the weary, overworked theme park blogger – ten minutes later I was on my way.

Despite being the first person at my bag check line, I’ve still managed to fall 20 people back on the walk to the tapstiles. I’m very slow.

I made the mistake of taking residence at the very front of the Annual Passholder line as it had not occurred to me that I would then be the captive audience of a very chatty, very soft-spoken cast member with an accent and a dictionary full of grandpa jokes.

At 7am, it looks like about 16 people are lined up behind each set of tapstiles.

We were let inside the Park at 7:17am and this was the scene at that time. It looks like about 50 people are now lined up behind each set. That means around 500 people are already here. I caution against using the Annual Passholder line unless you’re close to the front. They typically only open one side of the set of tapstiles, or just two Mickey readers. The other lines will see both sides open for a total of four Mickey readers. So if there’s 50 people behind me in the Annual Passholder line, the 50th person is going to scan as the 50th person. At a set of regular tapstiles with 50 people in line, that line will split into two individual lines each with two Mickey readers. So the 50th person in line becomes the 25th person to scan in the newly-created line.

Sharpen those elbows, it’s 7:19am as we proceed unencumbered towards the Tree of Life, where we’ll then take a left towards Pandora.

7:20am as a number of runners have passed me.

Luckily, we only waited here for seven minutes before the walk to Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey began.

Squeezing through towards Avatar Flight of Passage at 7:28am or about ten minutes earlier than the rope drop I covered about ten days ago.

That’s good news as it’s an indication that Disney knows it needs to be ready earlier to mitigate some of the crowding.

A borrowed image from the last update, but just as a brief reminder, the rush to Na’vi River Journey is 97.6% more chill than Flight of Passage as the vast majority of people are heading to the simulator ride. You would be able to ride River Journey at least twice in the first 30 minutes of operation, if not three times in 35 minutes or so. So if you can get a Flight of Passage FastPass+ and want to ride a Pandora priority that will see a 100+ minute standby wait with significantly less hassle, head to the River Journey. It’s far more forgiving.


I count one smile and it’s the person being paid to be here.

7:31am, which is about 20 minutes earlier than when I passed by this area on my last rope drop. Part of that is due to the earlier release time, as well as my earlier arrival.

Don’t let a high posted wait time deter you if you move over here relatively quickly – the ride is already posted at 60 minutes, but should be considerably less. We also benefit from no FastPass+ returners until regular open at 8am, which means 100% of the capacity, or about 750 riders over those 30 minutes, will head through the queue. By 9:30am, only about 300 standby riders per hour will ride versus 1,100 FastPass+ returners.

Things move slowly as everyone stops to take this picture.

And while there’s no wait to be placed into a pre-show room for the ride, there is a 2-minute wait to take this picture of the animatronic avatar.

I was past the FastPass+ merge point at 7:49am.

And, uh, inside the first pre-show room, at, uh, 7:52am.

At 8:13am I was back out front to a 180-minute posted wait. I would think the actual wait would be a lot closer to half that, not that the end of the line is where you want to be at this point in the morning. If you’re running behind, it would make more sense to head to other priority attractions when waits are shorter and return to Flight of Passage in the afternoon when waits are higher everywhere. Waits are actually shorter here in the afternoon than they are from 8:30am-11am, probably due to so many people being convinced that they need to do this first thing no matter what. This is a mistake if you can’t commit to being among the first 500-700 people.

Na’vi River Journey was posted at 20-minutes at 8:14am, so I gave it a shot.

You can eyeball the length of the line a little bit here. If you can immediately pass through the standby entrance and into the main line then your wait should be under 45 minutes. If the extended queue outside of the line is in use, then your wait is going to be 60+ minutes. So if it’s early in the morning and you’re not sure if the posted wait is accurate, pass through the standby entrance and take a look at the length of the line. If the area underneath the roof is completely full, it’s going to be 30-40 minutes and the wait goes down from there. When I arrived before 8:15am, only about a quarter of the roofed area was full, indicating a short wait.

The actual wait ended up being just eight minutes. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Still singing out of tune after two weeks.

And back out front at 8:32am for a total experience time of just 18 minutes with a posted wait that’s now 50.

I made an 8:15am to 9:15am FastPass+ so I headed back through:

Here, the queue is filling up and stretching back out to the uncovered walkway. The standby wait would be closer to 40 minutes – a short standby wait is only viable after Flight of Passage if you’re among the first couple of hundred people off Flight of Passage. Just about everyone that exits that ride is headed over here next, in addition to late arrivals that immediately visit River Journey first because it’s the first thing they see after entering the Valley of Mo’ara.

And back out front at 8:44am for a total experience time of 12 minutes with FastPass+. The posted wait is now 70-minutes, which is probably exaggerated by 20 minutes, but FastPass+ can seriously bog it down. Disney is making a concerted effort to get each row on the boat to seat at least three guests. Over the first couple of days of operation, as a single rider, I would have ridden alone. This time, I was paired with a party of two on each ride. That’s potentially good news as it means the hourly capacity is higher and waits should be reduced. On the other hand, you might find yourself seated next to me.

At this point, it makes sense to get out of Dodge and head elsewhere, where waits will still be short at other attractions.

Though few people are trekking towards the moon world. Crowds were surprisingly light considering it was a Sunday during the second week of operation with decent weather. Silver-level Annual Passholders are now blocked out and cast members still can’t bring guests to Animal Kingdom, but you wouldn’t think those effects on crowds would be this substantial. We’ll continue to monitor whether things pick back up.

I thought I would mix up my plan from last time a bit by heading to Expedition Everest next. Then, I was planning on arriving for the 11am Festival of the Lion King show a little earlier before using FastPass+ at Kilimanjaro Safaris.

I guess you could go to Kali River Rapids and have a raft to yourself this early.

I have it scheduled as my third FastPass+.

At 8:57am, Expedition Everest was still posted at 5 minutes:

The sun wasn’t cooperating quite as well as last time, but I was back out front at 9:08am for a total experience time of 11 minutes.

With a 10-minute posted wait, I got back in line:

Back out front at 9:19am for a total experience time of 11 minutes for a second time.

Against my better judgement, we head to Primeval Whirl:

I arrived at 9:24am to nobody in line, which meant I was spinning for one.

If you were to look up rock bottom in the dictionary, you’d see me, riding Primeval Whirl, alone, on a weekend, before 9:30am.

Actually, it would probably still be something at Universal, but I think you get where I’m going with this.

And back out front at 9:31am for a total experience time of seven minutes. I’m not going to ride again, but you certainly could.

Between Primeval Whirl and DINOSAUR, it’s sort of a toss-up on which to do first and it probably doesn’t really matter. DINO is a longer experience even given nobody else in line, but Primeval runs at a limited capacity early in the morning more often. I usually go to Primeval first since the queue is outdoors and less pleasant, and more often than not, it’s the one that’s going to surprise you a little bit with a higher wait time. On this particular morning, Disney was running both sides on Primeval and DINO, so both are virtual walk-ons.

There’s nobody in sight at 9:34am, a full 90 minutes after Animal Kingdom officially opens and two hours after we were knocking children over on the way to Flight of Passage.

This is one bad trip:

I was back out front at 9:46am for a total experience time of 12 minutes. That might be some kind of record.

TriceraTop Spin will still be a walk-on for some time if you want to check that out.

It probably offers the least scenic views of the various spinners.

The Magic Carpets of Aladdin over at Magic Kingdom is my favorite with tremendous views of Enchanted Tiki Room, Swiss Family Treehouse, and more.

Versus this parking lot, as elaborately themed as it might be.

But the time investment this early is basically nil – I arrived at 9:53am and was back out front at 10am for a total experience time of seven minutes. Why not, right?

In Part 2, we’ll continue onward, but what have we learned?

  • Disney is making a conscious effort to get things going earlier in the morning and to increase capacity/efficiency at the Pandora rides. Expect to be let into the Park by 7:20am and on your way into Pandora by 7:35am with a regular 8am open.
  • An arrival around 6:30am remains smart. No matter what Disney decides to do on that morning, an early arrival puts you in the best position to ride Avatar Flight of Passage with a short wait and potentially ride Na’vi River Journey in standby immediately after. While an hour might “feel” like a long time to wait, you’ll save more time than that just on Avatar Flight of Passage versus an arrival closer to 8am.
  • If you don’t want to deal with the crowding/rope drop situation, Na’vi River Journey remains a viable first stop. You could wait to head over until 7:45am and still experience a wait of around five minutes with the potential of riding a second or third time with a short wait.
  • Avatar Flight of Passage waits are longer from 8:30am-12pm than they are in the afternoon. If you can’t get over there early, it makes a lot more sense to visit other priority attractions. Pandora siphons so many people that low waits will continue through at least 9am and at most attractions until at least 10am.

In Part Two, we soldier on to Festival of the Lion King, visit Kilimanjaro Safaris, try mobile order at Satu’li Canteen, and see how our day stacks up.


    • Brian Noble says

      I’m with you. As things stand now, I’ll either hit these via FP, or not at all. They aren’t going anywhere, and I’ll be back.

      • Mary Ann says

        I actually think this sounds fantastic. Gets us done earlier so we can go take a nap at the hottest part of the day.

        • josh says

          Avatar Flight of Passage is not the most pleasant experience, but Na’Vi River Journey is fine even if you don’t arrive at the ride entrance until regular park open. Any other attraction would be less crowded than it would have been a year ago.

  1. isk8 says

    Thanks for this! We are headed to WDW tomorrow and will be at AK on Sunday. We’re riding river journey first and have a FP+ for FOP.

  2. says

    Thank you for your service, especially for riding prime EVIL hurl. Somewhere in Blogger heaven there is a stretcher reserved with your name on it and a cup holder stuffed with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve.

  3. jeffg4 says

    Great update! We also will be at AK on a Sunday and have a FOP FP+ for 8:00-9:00 followed by a KS FP+ 09:00-10:00. So if we go to Navi River Journey first, it sounds like we can be off that ride by 08:00. Would it be better to use the FOP FP+ right away at 08:00 or get a couple of EE or Dinosaur rides in before returning to Pandora to use the FOP FP+ closer to 09:00? I wonder when most FP+ people will be showing up for that 08:00-09:00 slot.

    • josh says

      I don’t think I would spend the walking time to head all the way out of Pandora, over to Asia or DinoLand, and then all the way back to Pandora. I’d probably ride Na’vi a couple of times, then do Flight of Passage, and then head over to DinoLand or Asia. You could put off the Safaris FP+ to use around 11am when it would be more useful.

  4. Chris says

    Thanks for the great update! Am I correct in thinking this was not an extra magic hour morning? The park officially opened at 8am for all, but in reality it opened much earlier in Pandora. Do you think this early park opening will continue when Animal Kingdom doesn’t open until 9am (i.e. you would still expect to be let into Pandora shortly after 8am when park officially opens at 9am)? TIA!

    • josh says

      It remains to be seen. It was not a morning EMH day – those are typically Saturdays and Mondays and this was a Sunday. I’m on the record as expecting the open to move to 8am for the rest of the summer. We’ll cross the 9am bridge when it happens.

    • Dave Shute says

      I arrived at security at 6.15a during Saturday EMH on 6/3 and was one of the first 30 people there. I suspect that 6.30a will do fine on an EMH day as well. People are not willing to get up that early!

  5. Marc B says

    I have an 8am breakfast at Tusker House on day when AK opens at 8am. What time do you think will they let me into AK? I might head directly to Pandora w/ one of my kids while the rest of my family eats and get a rider switch FastPass.


    • josh says

      The Tusker House reservation would have no bearing on entry into Animal Kingdom. You’d be let into the park with everyone else sometime around 7:20am and then held outside Pandora until they let you in, sometime between 7:30am and 7:50am most likely. If you eat breakfast at 8am you’d be wasting the single best hour to tour of the day outside of maybe 10pm-11pm.

  6. Jen says

    Saturday was amazing! Lowest wait times for Flights of Passage we did standby at 9am, 3pm and 7pm and waited 45 minutes to an hour. We had a fast pass time from 1-2 and waited 30 minutes for Navi River. We rode Everest 6 times, dinosaur 2x, Safari and saw animals having fun in the rain. It was a great day that I truly hope a lot of people can experience as well!!

  7. Kayla says

    We are visiting next week and are planning to start our day with Everest with a Pandora FastPass later in the morning. We are definitely rope drop people, but I’m not sure how early we should arrive at the park. What do you suggest?

    • josh says

      Depends a bit how adamant you are about being among the first people to Everest, which isn’t really necessary. If you were at bag check at 7:40am, you should be fine getting to Everest right aroud 8am. It will be a walk-on for at least an hour.

  8. RebeccaMcK says

    Considering AK is the one park I’ve never managed to get to before RD, I’m waiting at least a year before I go back there. By then maybe the novelty will have worn off a bit and the wait times will be more “normal.” And maybe they’ll have more shoulder Banshees available. Seems like the Avatar stuff is do-able with proper planning, but for now it all just makes my head hurt. Looks great, though, from what I’ve seen and read.

  9. Danielle says

    “If you were to look up rock bottom in the dictionary, you’d see me, riding Primeval Whirl, alone, on a weekend, before 9:30am.”

    And I’m thinking you are so lucky!!!

  10. Chris says

    Great update. Do you know what time Safari/Everest open? Can you head straight to them at the 0735 Pandora rope drop?

  11. says

    This was so helpful. Heading to AK next Monday and was hoping I wouldn’t have to be there before 6:30 am. I’m a morning person and this is pushing it for me. I can’t imagine many folks are willing to get up at 5 am on vacation so hopefully there won’t be too much of a wait for Flight of Passage with a 7 am opening!

  12. LesliePR says

    1. Are you going to be doing a new “cheat sheet” including Pandora?
    2. when is newest edition of “the easy guide” book coming out? I need to buy a new one, got your first one, but i’m going again for the last time in January.

    Thanks again for all you do for us WDW fanatics.

  13. Pam Blodgett says

    Thank you so much for this invaluable information! We arrived in the parking lot at AK this morning at 7:05, passed easily thru bag check and on to the turnstiles with about 10-12 people ahead of us at each. They made an opening announcement and started letting people in at about 7:15. We were all stopped at the turn to Pandora by Tusker House for a several minutes, then stopped again at the entrance to Pandora for a while. They directed us to follow specific cast members to the ride of our choice and headed off at 7:45. We were the second family in line because we happened to be standing right by the cast member who les the surge. We followed him through the queue and were on the first “Flight” of the day! We were done a couple minutes after 8:00 and went straight to the River Ride with no waiting. We had finished both about 8:15. It couldn’t have been better, thank you so much!! We are so glad we went early!

  14. David says

    So for those who don’t do rope drop – how long would the 2 ride queues be late afternoon/early evening say 3pm to 6pm?

  15. Liz says

    Thank you so much for all that you do.

    Lmao thinking about my daughter’s face when I tell her we need to be at AK at 6:30a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  16. Michelle says

    Josh, will you do an updated rope drop strategy closer to fall when the opening times are 9:00 vs 8:00? And will do you plan to make an updated cheat sheet to include Pandora?

    Love reading your posts!! And your pictures are phenomenal!

  17. cherie says

    So, if we are staying off property, are we screwed??? Will will be able to get a FP for FOP 30 days out?

    • Sharene says

      I logged on at 7:05am ET this morning at exactly 60 days out from our stay (we are staying on property) and there were ZERO FP+ available for FOP on Sunday 9/24 :-( Such a bummer, so I’d say at 30 days out you will likely not get one easily. I am going to keep checking though, you never know when one will pop up!

  18. Chris says

    We are going to AK on August 28th which is an EMH day but we aren’t staying inside WDW. The posted open time is 9am. what time should we be there to have any chance of getting on FOP? Of course, there weren’t any FP’s available since I could only do 30 days out. Couldn’t get a FP for Na’vi either. Please help…

  19. Meredith says

    With times now at 9:00am open… the parking doesn’t open up until 8am. My plan was to be in line for parking at 7:30 am… is that too late? Any news on the later opening time and the best arrival time now? Not sure how to get in without being able to get through the parking gate until 8am (according to the disney folks).


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