We spent some time covering Animal Kingdom touring strategy shortly after Pandora opened. The first rope drop post is available here with the followup post here. Then there was a second rope drop post here with part two of that post located here.
My assumption was that the 8am opens, which ended on July 4th, would continue throughout the rest of the summer given the overwhelming number of people willing to arrive by 7:30am. Above is the scene at 7:40am back in June. It’s a lot of people.
But what makes operational sense to me and what would make you more comfortable on the day of your visit is of little concern to the Walt Disney Company. Above is the end of the line for Flight of Passage at 9:36am on the morning of Tuesday July 25, 2017 with a 180-minute posted wait. Yes, 36 minutes after open. Three hours. The above is just barely within the confines of Pandora and nowhere close to the attraction entrance.
I apologize as the first few pictures are going to be even worse than usual, thanks to the morning humidity and my lack of a lens cloth. I purposefully arrived earlier than I thought necessary to see how things progressed and to figure out what should be the sweet spot between arriving early enough to find a short wait for Flight of Passage and late enough that you’re not waiting unnecessarily for bag check to begin. This is 7:13am and I am the fifth person to arrive.
One potential positive of the 9am open is that more buses are running. With the 8am open, buses would still be arriving by 6:15am, but they would be fewer in number than 7am. Uber/Lyft may still make sense for a quicker, more comfortable ride.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from more than a hundred rope drops and over a thousand theme park visits over the years, it’s that tourists love lines. And the longer, the better. It makes them feel like they belong.
So while I’m first in line over here.
Literally every single person that arrived after me filed in further and further back on the left. This is very silly because all of the bag check lines are going to open at the same time.
Bag check opened at 7:35am. One tip: they let every single person without a bag past security at the same time and every single one of those people will arrive at the entry touchpoints before the first person with a bag makes it through bag check. So if you’re a couple with two backpacks or a family with a bunch of bags, consider freeing one person of the burden of carrying the diaper bag so they can hurry through the no-bag line. It’s also a good opportunity to throw any Nikon cameras or accessories away.
So even though I arrived fifth, I ended up going through not only regular bag check, but also the metal detector because it had not been calibrated. After being wanded and receiving the requisite, “you must have bumped the reader,” when the wand didn’t beep, I was on my way to this scene at 7:40am. I count about 70 people.
The touchpoints reserved for those with breakfast reservations are located down to the left…but not all the way to the left…
But by 7:48am they are already converted over to regular touchpoints. You might remember at Epcot or Hollywood Studios that they open up to regular guests later in the morning, making it possible to arrive a little later and sneak into what becomes a very short line. That isn’t typically the case here.
At 7:42am or just two minutes after I made it through security, most other people have arrived in line.
There’s probably about 150 people here. This is the same time that we would have started heading to Flight of Passage prior to July 5th with the 8am opens. So the 9am open is deterring a lot of people from arriving by 7am as they would have with the 8am open. That’s good.
I do recommend arriving at bag check by 7:30am if you’re looking for a less stressful experience. This is the scene behind me at 8:01am. There’s 35+ people backed up in each line already as those arriving now are left standing out in front of the ticket booths. A 7:30am arrival at bag check will also give you the opportunity to unload those bags and have someone get in the no-bag line, thus passing anyone silly enough to wait for bag check themselves.
One thing about summer rope drops is that it’s pretty miserably hot and humid, even at 8am. Here in July, it’s already going to be 82 degrees with a RealFeel of 95 degrees. That’s not an exaggeration.
That’s one reason to position yourself further down on the right where the sun doesn’t hit quite as directly.
We were let through beginning at 8:13am.
A lot of people run.
I was a bit surprised to run into exactly zero cast members between the entrance and the Tree of Life. Typically, Disney has a small army of cast members with a variety of live animals to show off in The Oasis or to otherwise welcome guests. But a lot of “non-essential” cast members have seen their hours drastically reduced over the last few days with the expectation that those cuts will continue through the end of the summer.
The next holding area is the same as before, just past the entrances to Tiffins and Nomad Lounge.
At 8:20am, I’m about seven rows back.
This is not a pleasant place to be as there’s virtually no air movement and well over a thousand people now find themselves shoulder to shoulder with plans to head to the same exact place.
By 8:35am, the mass extends back to Discovery Island and continues around the corner.
And at 8:36am, we’re off.
As I discussed with the 8am opening posts, if you’re not relatively close to the front of this mass of humanity, you probably don’t want to go to Avatar Flight of Passage first thing. Na’vi River Journey, on the other hand, is just fine even if you arrive at the main entrance right at 9am and don’t make it back here until 9:15am. Those that arrive after 8:15am and head to Flight of Passage first will wait at least an hour in line, if not closer to 90 or 120 minutes, unless they’re really good ninjas.
Here’s a look at Flight of Passage posted wait times since Animal Kingdom changed to 9am regular opens:
There’s a few things we can glean from the chart, the majority of which jive with what we saw in June. The good news is that Flight of Passage is no longer closing to capacity before regular close or at the end of evening Extra Magic Hours, meaning you should be able to get in line at the very end of the night and ride without issue. You might remember that Disney was regularly closing the line an hour or more early in order to move through as many people as they thought they could handle and still shut down operation at a somewhat reasonable time. That’s good news particularly now that the close is 10pm rather than 11pm. I’d probably still be looking at getting in line about 30 minutes before close to be on the safe side. With only Pandora open during evening Extra Magic Hours, there isn’t a whole lot to do at 11:30pm anyway.
We also see the lowest waits outside of evening Extra Magic Hours during the heart of the afternoon and extending to the very early evening. Again, this phenomenon is probably due to a lull between the rope droppers leaving and those looking to take in the nighttime sights and sounds arriving. Posted waits are still typically stupid-long. 127 minutes is not a whole lot shorter than 144 minutes. But actual waits should be shortest for those getting in line around 1:45pm or 4:15pm. I’d expect to wait around 75 minutes then as long as the attraction is operating near full capacity.
But literally any time after noon is better than getting in the back of the line at 9:15am. The other thing about getting in line during the afternoon, when waits are longer everywhere, is that you’re not necessarily doing that much worse at Flight of Passage than you would getting in a 120-minute line for Kali River Rapids. During the first hour of operation, waits will be short at every single attraction outside of Pandora, which is why it makes sense to prioritize other attractions if you’re going to have to wait 60+ minutes for Flight.
I mentioned last time that it looks like Sunday is now the best day to visit Animal Kingdom in terms of relatively low crowds and wait times. And while this chart of exactly one attraction is not “proof,” the highlighted green Sundays do see the lowest waits compared to surrounding days, while Saturdays are typically the worst day to visit with heavier crowds and longer wait times.
Mondays with morning Extra Magic Hours typically see wait times similar to other weekdays. You’ll see those highlighted in yellow. (I forgot to highlight the 13th.)
Otherwise, wait times remain really, really long with the overall average wait just under two hours, fifteen minutes.
Back to the elbow throwing at hand. At 8:36am, we press right towards Flight of Passage.
Winding around as the path narrows.
And in front.
Don’t be too concerned if it’s slow-going entering the queue – everyone stops and takes a picture.
Here at 8:41am, the posted wait is already 60 minutes, but don’t let that deter you should you be among the first couple hundred people to arrive in line. The actual wait will be much shorter.
One potential bummer, and something that may in fact deter you from putting yourself through all of this, is that Disney is not currently routing rope droppers through the laboratory part of the standby queue. Once you arrive at the cave with the hieroglyphics, you’re sent through the FastPass+/single rider corridor. So you won’t see the cool fluorescent flora, the floating Avatar animatronic, or anything else. And you won’t have much of a look inside the cave either.
So that’s one thing to keep in mind if you have Avatar Flight of Passage FastPass+. If you’d like to see the standby queue, then visiting last thing at night may be the better option. I assume Disney is sending people through FP+/single rider first thing to speed up the load process. You don’t have to wait for people to meander through much longer corridors taking the exact same pictures. But the standby queue, which I have 100+ pictures of in this post, is really cool and helps set the stage for the ride. Unless something changes, the only way to experience that queue would be to wait at least an hour at some point during the day. And just to be clear, there is no single rider option. Disney built the capability, but has never implemented it.
We were on our way to the first pre-show room at 8:50am, which is just 15 minutes after starting to walk over here from the bridge. That’s very good time.
And we were off the ride and contemplating plastic shoulder toy resale values at 9:10am. Banshees are “back in stock” at the moment, though I’m somewhat dubious that there hasn’t been a healthy stockpile sitting back there the whole time. The price is up $10 to $60.
The other benefit to the early arrival is that we should be able to ride Na’vi River Journey in standby with a minimal wait immediately after disembarking the simulator ride. We’re being held for a moment while more people file into the Flight of Passage queue.
For the people entering the actual queue portion below this wait time sign now, 180 minutes is exaggerated. It’d be closer to 120 minutes, which I feel like I should point out is “two hours” rather than “one hour and twenty minutes” as many people yell out in front of the ride.
Here at 9:15am, the posted wait is 30 minutes for Na’vi River Journey.
During my last 8am rope drop, I arrived just about the same number of minutes after official open with what was a 20-minute posted wait at that time. The actual wait for River Journey was eight minutes back in June.
This time, there were considerably more people in front of me.
But my actual wait was still just 13 minutes.
In my head, this is what I look like every time I run into another Disney blogger. But in reality, we pretend like we never saw each other and sheepishly hurry away from the construction wall.
And back out front at 9:36am for a total experience time of 21 minutes. That’s 36 minutes after the Park officially opened. With FastPass+ in the afternoon, my total experience time is going to be 12 minutes, so it took just nine minutes longer here. On my last 8am rope drop, I was back out front at 8:32am, or 32 minutes after the Park officially opened. So there’s just a 4-minute difference between experiencing the two Avatar rides with an 8am open as there was with a 9am open.
And again, if River Journey is your priority or you’re happy to avoid the rope drop nonsense and ride Flight of Passage the one time with FastPass+ (or not at all), then you can ride River Journey three or four times first thing in the morning and experience very short waits. Otherwise, here at 9:36am, the actual wait looks to be about 30 minutes – longer if more FastPass+ users arrive.
The Valley of Mo’ara remains pretty chill at this point in the morning. Everyone is in line.
As alluded to earlier, the standby queue for Flight of Passage is backed up to the bridge where we were held earlier in the day.
You do not want to be at the end of this line.
But that’s the reason for arriving at 7:30am. In about two hours, I was able to ride both Pandora rides in standby and I’ve only spent 36 minutes of Park time. Waits will still be short at all other attractions. When I arrive at DINOSAUR at 9:46am, I’m going to walk right into the pre-show. If I arrived at the entrance at 9am and got in line for Flight of Passage first thing, I might be off the ride at 11:30am and waits would be long everywhere. When I pass Kali River Rapids at 11:25am later in the morning, the wait will be 120 minutes. It’s 10 minutes at 9:45am. When I ride Expedition Everest with FastPass+ at 11:10am, the posted wait will be 45 minutes. It’s 10 minutes at 9:45am. So there is a time investment with the early arrival, but it will set you up so much better for the rest of the day compared to arriving much closer to regular open.
And if you’re not interested in Pandora or have plans to visit at another time, other attractions will be that much less busy for the first hour of operation as Avatar consumes the time of 90% of the people in the Park at 9:30am.
Overall, my experience riding Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey in standby with a 9am open was comparable to my experience with the 8am open. The major downside is that I didn’t see much of the standby queue. Another downside is that I’m going to be running into heavier crowds and longer wait times at the majority of the attractions I subsequently visit. I usually say that the nice thing about 8am opens is that it offers another hour of short waits and will have you on your way that much earlier. The size of the 10am crowd is the size of the 10am crowd regardless of the opening time. But wait times are up across the board here in late July compared to earlier in the month and the entirety of June.
In Part 2, we’ll continue on with what to expect from the Animal Kingdom morning.